ANASTAZIA Kuzmina’s gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi was not the only thing bringing the biathlon to the public’s attention in mid-February. A high-profile corruption trial, which involves a former prime ministerial aide and a onetime ambassador suspected of taking a bribe for arranging a state subsidy for the construction of a biathlon centre in Osrblie, is underway at the Specialised Criminal Court in Pezinok.

While one of the accused denies any corrupt activity, the other said he thought the bribe was a payment for what he called consultancy. If found guilty, the men face up to two years in prison.

Martin Novotný, who worked as an external aide for investments to former prime minister Iveta Radičová, and one-time diplomat Igor Líška are accused of having accepted a bribe of €30,000 for arranging a subsidy worth €300,000 for the completion of the biathlon centre. Líška, the former Slovak ambassador to Kenya, was detained by police in July 2011, caught red-handed with marked banknotes worth €30,000 at Novotný’s office.

The state attorney now claims that Novotný also promised to arrange an additional €1.3 million subsidy from the Education Ministry, the SITA newswire reported.

The money was intended for the completion of a multi-use building in Osrblie’s biathlon centre.
The government assigned a total of €1.6 million for the project, with €1 million to come from the Education Ministry, €300,000 from the Finance Ministry and the other €300,000 from the prime minister’s financial reserve.

The Government Office instantly fired Novotný from his post “due to the loss of trust”, while the subsidy for the project was cut by Radičová. The investigation did not show any involvement by Radičová or Olympian Kuzmina, who had officially requested the subsidy from the prime minister.
“I did not ask anybody for any bribe,” Novotný said in court on February 10, as quoted by the Sme daily. “It is not part of my practices. I reject such behaviour.“

Líška also testified in court, claiming that even when he saw that the police were arresting the men who brought him the €30,000 he did not think he was doing anything illegal. He thought that it was his payment for consultancy, the agreed upon 10 percent from the €300,000 subsidy, the TASR newswire reported.

Novotný said that he advised representatives of the Slovak Biathlon Association to request an official meeting with Radičová since he was not able to help them arrange a subsidy through the Education Ministry. Novotný said he neither attended the meeting nor intervened into the content of the conversation, SITA reported.

The bribe was allegedly given by the contractor Peter Kňazík who according to the police went by the codename “top client” or “Mr Icicle”, Sme reported.

Kňazík and mediator Pavol Prečuch have already received conditional sentences in the case.

Novotný and Líška were given suspended one-year sentences and fined €10,000 in 2013, while the court ruled with a sentence order, as it considered the evidence to be sufficient for a guilty ruling. However, since Novotný and Líška appealed the verdict, the case was brought before the Specialised Criminal Court, according to SITA.

Kňazík testified before the court on February 12. He refused to speak, arguing that he was already heard twice by the investigators and that he does not wish to make any changes to his statements.
“The state owes me money for the work I have performed in Osrblie, nobody takes interest in that,” Kňazík said, as quoted by TASR.

He added that he refused to testify since his testimony would bring him another criminal prosecution even though he was already effectively sentenced over this issue. Kňazík was previously given a conditional sentence.

Líška first admitted to the investigator that he had passed information about the grant that he said he received from Novotný to Kňazík, who allegedly promised 10 percent of the sum to the facilitators of the grant, Sme reported. Later, in court, Líška denied having committed any acts of corruption.

Kňazík, who according to Sme has admitted to corruption in the case, was found guilty in 2010 of machination in public procurement and avoiding taxes, the Government Office said, adding that both misdemeanours were connected to public procurement related to the construction of the Osrblie facilities.

Apology

After the case became public, the Government Office explained that external aides had neither decision-making nor any other authorities, and as such they have no impact on decisions about grants.

Yet, then-opposition Smer leader Robert Fico accused Radičová of corruption, saying that graft had never gotten so close to the prime minister as it had in this case. Radičová sued Fico in September 2011 for libel and the district court in Pezinok issued a ruling in May 2013 that ordered Fico to publish an apology in the TASR and SITA newswires at his own expense.

According to the judge, even though at the time Radičová was serving as a public official, this statement violated her personal honour, SITA wrote.