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Corruption convict kept from prisonFormer Košice city council member remains a free man as court again hears case
24 Feb 2014 Michaela Terenzani - Stanková Politics & Society
DESPITE a guilty corruption verdict that came with a prison sentence, a former member of the Košice city council remains a free man after Justice Minister Tomáš Borec intervened.
Borec has submitted a special appeal of František Olejník’s, a former Smer deputy and Košice city councillor, and says that Olejník need not begin his sentence in the interim. The Trend weekly broke the story on February 13, and the opposition is calling for a no-confidence vote on Borec.
The case dates back to 2007, when the Košice businessman Jozef Maskaľ showed interest in buying lucrative municipal-owned property in the city centre. At the time, Olejník served as a member of the Košice city council and he allegedly accepted a bribe of SK340,000 (over €11,000) from Maskaľ to ensure that the deputies from his caucus would vote in favour of the sale, Trend wrote. The city sold the building to Maskaľ in March 2008 for more than €178,000, while according to the courts that later dealt with the case the market price for the land was at least twice as high.
The Specialised Criminal Court in Pezinok sentenced Olejník to five years in prison and a fine of €3,000. The verdict was later upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2013. Both courts issued their verdicts based on police wiretapping of Olejník’s phone calls for several months, claiming that the only logical way to explain the phone calls is that Maskaľ and Olejník were talking about a bribe.
Borec however opines that the courts erred and Olejník is innocent. He filed his appeal on December 20, 2013. According to him, the courts decided without relevant evidence. Olejník was elected to the council from the slate of Smer. Borec, who is a Smer nominee, insists the appeal is not politically motivated.
“The deed that František Olejník is prosecuted for has probably not happened and thus the delivering of the condemning verdict and imposing a sentence contradicts the penal rules and, importantly enough, also his basic rights and freedoms,” the Sme daily quoted from the minister’s reasoning in his appeal.
The minister’s appeal came one day after the Košice district police department received a court order to bring Olejník to prison. Olejník however did not go to prison, and on January 29 Borec again intervened and issued an order that suspends Olejník’s prison sentence, Trend reported.
The Supreme Court will now examine the case again, based on the ministerial appeal.
“There is a serious suspicion that Minister Borec has misused his post in order to prevent a convicted person from going to prison,” said independent MP and chair of the New Majority (NOVA) party Daniel Lipšic, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “We want to see that he explains his action.”
“In this specific case, Minister Borec acted in line with a provision of the Penal Code, which was proposed and promoted by Lipšic via [then justice] minister [Lucia] Žitňanská,” said Justice Ministry spokesman Pavol Kubík, as quoted by TASR. “His claims of misuse of powers are therefore legally absurd and incomprehensible.”
Žitňanská admitted that the amendment to the Penal Order that she proposed in 2011 as a minister was “on the edge of constitutionality”, as quoted by Trend. She claimed she pushed it through because it was a part of the government’s programme statement and Lipšic insisted on it. The new provision was meant to give the minister the power to appeal “downright excesses”, or cases when the condemned is released from prison based on a court error, Trend wrote.
Borec said he has thus far filed 31 such appeals, 18 of them in 2013, while the ministry received over 200 requests for appeals last year.
Following the media reports, the opposition voiced suspicions that the minister abused his power in this case, and convened a special session of the parliamentary defence and security committee on February 19 to deal exclusively with this case.
Borec insisted in front of the MPs that it was his legal duty to appeal Olejník’s case.
“As a justice minister I am obliged to file an appeal based on a motion of the respective person if I evaluate that what the motion states is really reasonable,” Borec said following the session, as quoted by TASR.
Borec argues that in Olejník’s case the courts wrongly interpreted evidence, mainly the wiretapped phone calls. He insists that the appeal was “done very properly and well”, TASR quoted.
“This is another signal that the police are taking efforts and uncovering somebody in vain, because in the end that somebody will find their protector, perhaps in the justice minister,” Lipšic said, as quoted by TASR.
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