Recent stories of corruption, alleged divulgence of state secrets and Klavdija Markez’s short-lived tenure as Education minister has seen Slovenia engulfed by a seemingly interminable wave of negative story-lines, some almost stranger than fiction which, ironically, is what much of Ms. Markez’s masters thesis has turned out to be, her resignation only adding more fuel to plagiarism allegations. If an education minister has cut corners to achieve her qualifications, what message does that send to Slovenia’s students? A country previous known for graft in its hardworking sense has of late seen the definition of a little known homophone become far more appropriate: Wikipedia: Graft(political corruption) definition
How then does all this relate to the title of this blog post? Firstly, the apparent absurdity of a tourist complex missing a storey from its newly built centerpiece appears to be nothing more than an almost laughable construction oversight. In other words, nobody would believe such a lapse was possible if it hadn’t already occurred. Sadly, though, this seems to be more a case of fraud than faux pas which only came to light during a routine asset-appraisal by the new operating company, as part of a process now commonplace in Slovenia: debt restructuring. To lose a few square metres from an original architectural design could be classed as careless but for 10,000 to have been overlooked, this to many would appear to be a case of taking the money for the building originally planned but leaving off a sizable chunk of it, hoping that nobody would notice. Balance-sheets and land-registry records up until last year indeed confirmed the facility covered an area of 60.000 square metres when in reality, around 17% of the reported surface-area had never existed. Assuming the new management of the Lasko-based spa complex are the innocent party, they have undoubtedly been sold a pup. With €15 million of added impairments only serving to drive Thermana into administration, this formed the first part of a triple whammy of problems caused by the ‘floor that never was’. Bought in good faith but lacking the requisite due diligence, the missing storey saw the price paid per square metre increase from €1,250 to almost €1,500. Added to a debt-burden borrowed to a level that reflected the building being constructed in its entirety, finance secured to complete the project was in effect fraudulently procured.
Criminal proceedings are inevitable, especially with such damning evidence pointing to a sophisticated fraud, albeit one that was likely to be rumbled sooner or later. Whilst the authorities will seek legal redress for any alleged criminal malpractice, Thermana Lasko’s fate in the meantime will be decided by Celje’s district court who could place it into receivership or as seems to be increasingly likely, allow creditors, including the Bank Asset Management Company, to assume control, perhaps before being auctioned off. In the light of similar financial speculation in the Maribor region investment from Russian venture capitalists cannot be ruled out.
An incredible story(no pun intended) I am sure you will agree but sadly, the former image of Slovenia being the antithesis of modern-day corruption and mismanagement has long since been dispelled. Whilst the spa facilities at Lasko continue to operate and will welcome many guests over the Easter period, a debt liability amounting to €36 million of secured loans leaves it, like many previously revered Slovenian tourist arenas, with an uncertain future. Whether Slovenia has yet reached its low-water mark remains to be seen but such nadirs only serve to damage the country’s image yet further, especially within the tourism-sector it so greatly relies upon.
Further reading on this subject can be viewed at: Slovenia Times: Thermana Lasko missing a storey