Lipšic decries 'mafia-friendly' plan to scrap Special Court

FORMER Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic accused the Robert Fico government of being "mafia friendly" last week, citing a draft law prepared by new Justice Minister Štefan Harabin to abolish two key judicial bodies established to fight organized crime.

FORMER Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic accused the Robert Fico government of being "mafia friendly" last week, citing a draft law prepared by new Justice Minister Štefan Harabin to abolish two key judicial bodies established to fight organized crime.

The Special Court and Special Attorney's Office were set up by the previous Dzurinda government in 2005 to try high-stakes cases of political corruption and mafia crime deemed too hot for the regular court system.

Along with the firing in early August of the country's point-man since 2001 on organized crime, Police Corps Vice-President Jaroslav Spišiak, Lipšic said that the draft bill to get rid of the court showed the new government is in danger of returning Slovakia to its organized crime heyday in the 1990s.

Based in Pezinok in western Slovakia, the Special Court and Special Attorney's Office stand outside the rest of the Slovak justice system as part of a plan to prevent contacts between courts, politicians and crime groups at the local level from subverting justice.

Since its founding the court has handed out sentences in several major cases, including maximum life terms for members of a gang that dissolved the remains of its victims in acid. However, the uncertainty surrounding the court's future is now starting to undermine its work, as suspects have begun not showing up for scheduled appearances.

Recently, proceedings in the case of the bankrupt Russian-Slovak Devín Banka financial house were adjourned when one of the suspects failed to appear, citing health problems. Such excuses have multiplied recently, according to court spokeswoman Katarína Kudjaková.

"We can only guess that the accused are waiting to see what will happen with the Special Court, and are skipping court proceedings in the hope that the court will be cancelled altogether," Kudjaková told the Sme daily on August 19.

While opposition MPs like Lipšic claim that pressure on the court plays into the hands of the mafia, Justice Minister Harabin has taken issue with the perks enjoyed by prosecutors and judges working for the new bodies, including special security and higher wages.

Special Court judges enjoy earn around Sk180,000 per month, approximately three times the salary of judges in the regular court system.

Harabin has called the wage differential unfair, and has said that the court's results do not justify the added expenditures.

The court cost Sk450 million to set up, but according to an internal audit initiated by Harabin, Special Court judges complete only 0.3 cases per month, compared to 10-15 cases for regular regional court judges.

However, Special Court Chief Justice Igor Králik offered a different set of statistics. According to Králik's figures, each regional court justice completes 2.3 cases per year, or 0.23 cases per month, which is slightly less than the 0.3 average at the Special Court.

But the future of the Special Court may be decided by politics rather than facts. On August 21, President Ivan Gašparovič added his voice to criticism of the existence of the court as well as the Special Attorney's Office.

"I was against the establishment of the Special Court from the start," said the president, whose 2004 election campaign was supported by the ruling coalition Smer party.

Gašparovič is a founding member of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party, which nominated Harabin to his post.The president said there was no need to categorize criminals and put them before a special judge. "The laws are interpreted by people. If I were a good regional prosecutor, I would also be a good special prosecutor. If I were a bad regional prosecutor, I would be a bad special prosecutor

as well."

Despite signals - like the draft law Lipšic supplied to the media - that plans are in the works to abolish the Special Court and the Special Attorney's Office, the Justice Ministry insists it has not made a final decision.

"In line with the government's programme manifesto, the Ministry of Justice is evaluating the activities of these special institutions," ministry spokesman Michal Jurči told The Slovak Spectator. "On the basis of this analysis, it will submit a concrete proposal to parliament.

"The cancellation of the Special Court and the Special Attorney's Office is one possible solution," he said.

Jurči said that Harabin would rely on expert arguments in deciding the fate of the institutions, "unlike during the process by which these institutions were established".

Asked for a response to Lipšic's allegation that the current government was "mafia friendly", Jurči said that Harabin would not comment.

Special Court Chief Justice Králik said he believed that criminals would welcome the abolition of the court, as it would "re-open the doors to corruption and organized crime in Slovakia.

"I'm convinced that it would be a backward move for Slovakia. By removing these courts and prosecutors, Justice Minister Harabin would reveal his very questionable vision of how to stand up to organized crime and corruption," Králik said in a statement (see also interview with Králik, above).

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