What do the Cakić, Zidar, Radan, Olovec and Kovač “killers from Facebook” cases, and most recently the Novič case, all have in common? These are all high-profile trials and procedures in which the fate of the defendants has been adjusted and, most of all, sealed by court experts.
The court relies on the experts’ findings when expert knowledge is necessary to assess the relevant facts. However, here is where the problems with the experts begin. The court itself merely selects an expert or experts among the sworn court experts on the list of the Ministry of Justice. There is not any principle, of randomness, rotation, territorial jurisdiction or experience that applies to this selection. The alone court chooses the expert, and the law grants the expert so appointed a privileged position in relation to all other opinions obtained by the participants in the procedure, even when the parties submit opinions of other judicial experts. In cases of differing opinions by more than one appointed expert, the court alone chooses which one to believe. If a party submits to court a second expert opinion, which was also drafted by a court expert, who was not appointed by the court in the procedure in question, such an opinion for the court represents only the “underlying argument” rather than equivalent evidence. In criminal proceedings especially, the findings of experts, which are too often contradictory and subject to many criticisms, provoke the public and raise legitimate doubts about the fairness and legality of the trial. This time we examined the work of the psychiatric experts and we came up with unexpected findings.
Psychiatry, Riddles and Abuses
It is generally known that totalitarian regimes abuse psychiatry to prosecute the political opposition. Therefore, we should not be surprised if we find intelligence officers among the psychiatrists of the former communist state. In Slovenia, this is the case for Martina Breda Žmuc Tomori, who appears in the CAE list (a list of former Yugoslav Secret Services or UDBA officials, TN) where she is even registered under the SDV file number. Since the psychiatrist Žmuc Tomori has been in retirement for a while, she has chosen the young psychiatrist Peter Pregelj as her “apprentice”. Pregelj succeeded Žmuc Tomori at the top of Slovenian psychiatry. However, after carefully reviewing the available newspaper articles and interviews with investigators and defendants, we can conclude that the general belief is that both Žmuc Tomori and Pregelj are persistently on the side of the prosecution in their expert opinions. Thus, they are in some way prosecuting psychiatrists and their expert opinions often differ with those of professionals from the psychiatric profession who perform their work with a sufficient degree of independence and objectivity. The psychiatrist Pregelj regularly participates in retirement commissions of the Institute for Pension and Disability Insurance of Slovenia (ZPIZ), where he supposedly rejects the proposals for retirement in a very uncaring way, also in cases where opinions of other specialists, especially neuroscientists, are contrary to his. Our interlocutor – we keep the name in the Editorial Office – told us: “If the court wants the strictest condemnation and as little treatment for the defendant as possible, it will surely be set up by Pregelj or Tomori.” Of course, the blind service to state institutions and the Deep State has its other side of the coin. It was precisely Tomori who made sure that Ivan Zidar attained legal incapacity after his attorneys were desperate and unsuccessfully tried to obtain such an opinion from other experts. Pregelj, for example, fully protected a police officer who shot at an unarmed fugitive suspect and killed him. All this information has led us to look more closely at the work of these two psychiatrists, since the fate of a (very) large number of persons depends on their opinion. It is not only about patients, investigators, defendants and victims, but also their families, kinship, friends and others who are indirectly affected by the fate that a psychiatric expert decides for them.
The retired Dr Martina Breda Žmuc Tomori also enjoys a special state privilege: she still has her office at the premises of the University Psychiatric Clinic in Ljubljana.
Seducing Judges in a Trap
The courts like the psychiatrists who work convincingly, who suggest a clear decision and a clear explanation to the judge. However, as a rule, the psychiatric profession does not give explanations in such a simple form as the legal or judicial logic would wish for. This is why the judges insist that the opinions received by the clients from other, equal or even better experts, simply cannot have the same weight in the court as the opinion given by the designated expert. The easiest way for a judge to decide is to not have to delve deep into the content and compare different opinions and assessing their credibility, perfection and conviction. It thus suits the judge to follow only the expert he or she set up. Experienced experts know this, of course, and try to appeal to the judge by passing only the medical expert grades and indicating the degree of impaired judgement with legal terminology and logic in their opinions. If they support the opinion of the prosecutor’s office to the greatest extent possible it is even better since everything is well-suited to this, and the risk of the annulment of the judgment in the higher court is thus significantly lower. Of course, this is a trap that easily entangles the judge into making the wrong and unfair decision. Some psychiatrists are masters of setting up such traps, as they are convinced that they can gain extra revenue from their expert opinions in this way. In other words: the more the psychiatrist is on the side of the institutions and as little as possible on the defendant’s or patient’s side, they will hire him. Either in the court, either at the Ministry of the Interior or at the ZPIZ. However, such an expertise is not impartial, nor does it provide adequate assurances for the timely and proper psychiatric treatment of the sick or mentally challenged.
It would seem that Dr Pregelj has total dominion over the district courts of Nova Gorica and Koper where he earned 373,571.84 euros, which should raise red flags for the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK).
A Million for an Expert
Given the frequent presence of dr. Peter Pregelj in high-profile court proceedings as an expert on psychiatry, we came up with extremely interesting findings. We asked the Slovenian courts to give us data on payments to Peter Pregelj and Martina Breda Žmuc Tomori. From 2014 to 2018, according to our collected data, Dr Peter Pregelj received from the courts the average amount of 639,658.82 euros either paid out directly or through the Faculty Expertise Commission, where Pregelj controls almost half of all ordered psychiatric opinions. It seems that Dr Pregelj has dominion over the district courts of Nova Gorica and Koper because during the same period he earned 373,571.84 euros there, of which almost 300,000 were in Nova Gorica alone. This is something that should raise a red flag for the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK). Given that the average price of a psychiatric expert opinion is around 700 euros, it means that Pregelj impressively made 913 opinions within five years for the Slovenian courts. In addition, during the same period of time, he participated in the Disability Commission as its member. For the IK Commission II. he participated in as many as 2,268 cases or 500 cases annually, for which he received 50,010.30 euros from ZPIZ, and that is not all. In addition, he supplies a number of people in homes for the elderly and prisons. We checked the Erar application and found that the company Pregelj, d. o. o., received an incredible 568,612.19 euros in public funds in the period 2014-2018, and from 2006 to today as much as 1,131,296.22 euros. Together with the fees from the courts, from January 2014 to today, it would amount to EUR 1,208,271.01, if we add the ZPIZ payments, that is as much as EUR 1,258,281.31. However, this amount includes only the fees he receives through his s. p. company, the contracts and the company Pregelj, d. o. o., while his regular pay by the employer is not included. Professor Dr Peter Pregelj is also regularly employed, with the abundance of all his additional work, which includes the contract with the Ministry of the Interior and the Government Office for the Care and Integration of Migrants, numerous expert opinions, extensive work for several homes for the elderly, etc. The Faculty of Medicine informed us that Pregelj is their employee of 23% plus 20% and has 9.2 hours of regular monthly work obligations and 20% complementary employment, while the University Psychiatric Clinic Ljubljana informed us that he has been employed there with a 20% working obligation.
Helping Asylum Seekers
The Ministry of the Interior has kindly explained to us that the contract with Pregelj, d. o. o., worth EUR 77,295.08 excluding VAT, was made on the basis of a public contract and is available online. The Office of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for the Care and Integration of Migrants (UOIM) explained to us that the company Pregelj, d. o. o. on February 2, 2018, concluded a public contract for the provision of psychiatric support to applicants for international protection and persons with recognized international protection. We also found online his cooperation with the Faculty of Philosophy. In the Ljubljana Moste-Polje House for the elderly, where his income amounted to 128,497.32 euros and more than double that in the last ten years, they avoided to answer the question whether the order for the services of the company Pregelj, d. o. o., was published as a public contract, and sent us only an unconvincing answer that they “do business in accordance with the law”.
Along with this incredible abundance of obligations, we can rightly question the quality and thoroughness of his expert opinions both for the courts and for the ZPIZ. We also wonder when he is able to handle the plethora of patients in a private clinic. The Erar application shows that he receives an average of EUR 4,876.26 per month from the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia, most likely from the concession granted to Pregelj, d. o. o., while also promoting self-payment services on the internet, stating that the institution covers only 50 percent of the workload. This means that he earns at least as much as EUR 282,823.40 from self-funding patients. Together with the public sources he therefore earned EUR 1,541,104.71 from January 2014 to October 2018 or 26,570.77 euros a month, not including the salary for regular work at the faculty and psychiatric hospital. If we had this information, the amount would most likely exceed 30 thousand euros per month.
Private Clinic at Murgle Center
It should be made clear at this point that Peter Pregelj was the co-founder and member of Pregelj, psychiatric counseling, d. o. o. Then he left the company and transferred his share free of charge by complete transfer to his co-worker Mojca Pregelj. However, he does not have the status of director or representative in the company itself. Nevertheless, his private clinic at the Murgle Center is still being advertised through the same company, and the concession contract is still linked to the company Pregelj, d. o. o. The payments by state authorities and public institutes for his services are mainly paid through Pregelj, d. o. o., which, although it is a service activity that does not know the supplier’s costs, for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of public payments that it received for years, has incredibly modest profits, in 2015 even a loss, mocking all Slovenes and Financial Administration. When we asked him for information on where he is employed and whether he attended training courses related to the license granted and its extension, since we thought he could not possibly have any available time for this, he did send us an answer. However, he did not authorize us to publish it because he is worried “that publication of such data could cause material or non-material damage”. For the same reason, we should not disclose how many articles he prepared for professional meetings and how many he published for professional magazines. We are seriously concerned by how a report on his work, how he is always busy and even finds time for professional training and practice, should have a negative effect. The production of expert opinions cannot be regarded as professional training. It is interesting to note that recently, in a court procedure, he responded to the question of how long he worked as a hospital psychiatrist with “I do not remember” and thus avoided the complaint of insufficient experience. During the collection of data, Peter Pregelj’s friend called us and advised us kindly to stop inquiring about his activities, since Dr Pregelj was a member of the Young Christian Democrats and is actively, although secretly involved and has always helped the opponents of the Family Code. In light of this, we thought that he actually had an excellent business strategy for public performance in favor of state institutions, and at the same time a private, secret search for support for a political opposition that might once land in power.
From 2006 to the present, the Pregelj, d. o. o. company received an incredible 1,131,296 euros of taxpayers’ money.
On the Retired Psychiatrist from the CAE List
However, the abundance of work, the many employers and the heap of expert opinions do not give the impression that all this can be achieved with the necessary quality and professionalism. Considering that the aforementioned interlocutor confided to us that Dr Martina Breda Žmuc Tomori moved Dr Pregelj to the top of the Slovenian psychiatry, we wanted to find out what is going on with her now, while retired. Her role is particularly important because she is regularly engaged by the system in cases of sexual abuse, especially of minors. In these matters, Žmuc Tomori often behaves in a biased manner and, according to other psychiatrists, is unprofessional. Given the sensitivity of the subject, it is difficult to get into concrete cases, but many participants in the proceedings say that certain circumstances, statements, facts and evaluations are often simply made up and attributed to the investigator or victim. However, her statements are privileged and almost impossible to challenge before the court. Martina Breda Žmuc Tomori received an incredible 542,099.64 euros from the Slovenian courts for the period between the years 2014-2018, although she has long been retired. According to our estimation, this amount strongly exceeds the allowed 60 monthly hours of temporary or occasional work determined by the regulations for pensioners, so we would like to know how she manages to hide it from ZPIZ. If we found that Pregelj is in control of the Nova Gorica and Koper courts, Žmuc Tomori is a very important player, by the amount of fees, in Celje (114,341.50 euros), Novo mesto (106,463.41 euros), Kranj (104,533.57 euros) and also in Krško (64,897.77 euros). The District Court of Celje considered it necessary to clarify that “she is an expert, whose high-quality opinions are always made within the set deadlines, and at the same time she is an expert of the psychiatric profession, where we find there is a chronic shortage of experts, because psychiatric opinions are often necessary both in criminal procedures, as well as in family matters.” Their explanation raises more concerns and doubts than convincing arguments, as Dr Žmuc Tomori is a psychiatrist, who had made her career and gained the trust in the courts at the time of the previous, undemocratic regime, which needed psychiatrists primarily as colleagues. She still works, although retired, and although there are as many as 34 psychiatric experts available on the list of the Ministry of Justice. Tomori is still active through the Faculty Commission for Expert Opinions as well, for which she has produced 41 opinions in the amount of 52,613.14 euros. She also enjoys a special state privilege that ordinary pensioners can only dream of: she still has her office at the premises of the University Psychiatric Clinic in Ljubljana, where she also invites persons under investigation to interviews and examinations. This means that the state generously and freely gives luxurious business premises for her private practice. No different than her fellow Peter Pregelj, who also performs private examinations for the purposes of judicial expertise, on occasion, at the premises of the University Psychiatric Clinic. He who can, does.
Since February this year, the Pregelj, d. o. o. company has been providing psychiatric support to asylum seekers for 77,295 euros of taxpayers’ money.
In March 2018, the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia adopted the Law on Judicial Experts, Judicial Analysts and Court Interpreters (ZSICT), which will enter into force on 1 January 2019. According to our estimates, the Act belongs to a group of unnecessary attempts at excessive standardization of all aspects of life, and at the same time does not eliminate the greatest irregularities and problems related to judicial experts. It also greatly aggravates the position of the parties in the proceedings or the principle of equality of arms. The Act restricts the right to appeal to the status of an expert, reserving it only for the expert who is appointed by a court or administrative body in a specific case. Thus, the possibility for the court expert to produce, seal and sign an independent expert opinion without a court order, for the needs of the participants in judicial and other procedures, is definitively abolished. The parties before the courts and administrative bodies have so far been able to submit a second opinion, which they have ordered themselves, signed by a court expert. It is therefore a significant deterioration of the clients’ prospects in the procedure to equally, with the same weapon, oppose the court expert selected by the court, as the author of this article described in her ‘View’ as well.