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Court under fire for release
12 Aug 2013 Beata Balogová Politics & Society
THE DECISION to temporarily release four alleged gang members from pretrial custody might have a rather high cost for three Constitutional Court judges as the Supreme Court is pushing for a disciplinary proceeding against them for what it called “professional failure”.
The pretrial custody term of four members of the alleged Piťovci group – named after Juraj ‘Piťo’ Ondrejčák – caught in November 2011 during the biggest police crackdown in Slovak history, elapsed more than a year ago. After the Specialised Criminal Court refused to prolong pretrial custody on May 24 of last year, the prosecutor filed a complaint and the Supreme Court extended custody until October 15, 2012.
Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court senate led by Juraj Horváth cited a procedural failure as it cancelled the Supreme Court’s decision, the Sme daily reported. The Supreme Court reopened the case on July 24 and this time rejected the prosecutor’s complaint, citing significant changes in the case since 2012.
Though the four accused had to be released, two of them, suspects Matej Š. and Miroslav A., were immediately arrested on separate charges, according to the SITA newswire, including allegations of more serious crimes like the establishment of a criminal group and blackmail. Meanwhile the Supreme Court is calling for greater scrutiny of the performance by the Constitutional Court judges.
“The Supreme Court regards the ruling by the Constitutional Court senate, led by its chairman Juraj Horváth, in the past lawfully penalised for tax evasion, in the matter of accused Milan Š. as confusing,” reads an official August 2 release by the Supreme Court. “It is literally legal and professional nonsense, which endangered the proceeding over custody issues in the most serious cases of criminal activities.”
The finding of the Constitutional Court is unintelligible as there is a contradiction between the verdict and the reasoning, the Supreme Court argues in a statement published on the court’s website. The penal code does not require the Supreme Court to deliver the explanations of a prosecutor’s complaint to suspects. Despite this, it was the failure to do so which the Constitutional Court referred to in its ruling to release the suspects. They did so without being able to cite any actual applicable law, the Supreme Court statement argued. Even so, the suspects knew the reasons for the special prosecutor’s complaint because these were included in a verdict issued earlier by the Specialised Criminal Court.
The Justice Ministry will also look into the circumstances surrounding the Piťovci group and if the inquiry implies that someone erred, “the Minister of Justice will act in line with the law”, ministry spokesperson Jana Zlatohlávková told SITA.
Meanwhile, on July 26, private television broadcaster TV Markíza broke the story of two prison guards in Žilina who were helping an alleged gangland figure, Miroslav A., to influence witnesses as they acted as go-betweens for the accused. Three lawyers are allegedly also involved in the case with two of them already behind bars. The lawyers are said to have smuggled letters in which the alleged gangsters instructed people how to testify in court, according to Markíza. The guards allegedly gave the letters to three lawyers who distributed them. The prison guards have already been fired, but their motivation is still unknown.
Striking at Piťovci
In one of the biggest police actions against an alleged mafia group in the history of independent Slovakia, in November 2011, the police arrested more than 20 people including the reputed boss of a Bratislava-based criminal group. They were charged with various crimes, among them fraudulent application for and receipt of housing loans from the United States.
Foremost among those arrested was Ondrejčák, aka Piťo, while six other men were charged with crimes related to a 2010 case involving the burning of cars in Trnava and elsewhere and the unauthorised possession and trading of guns. The special prosecutor requested that four of those arrested, including Ondrejčák, be held in custody pending further investigation. Another seven men detained in the raid were charged with fraudulently receiving housing loans from US-based banks, Sme wrote.
The police claim they also blackmailed and threatened people to ensure their silence and, with the help of bank staff, then withdrew €1,114,278.75 from accounts. Action by the police prevented them from making further withdrawals of almost €1.4 million, the General Prosecutor’s Office said.
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