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Mečiar dismisses illegal bonuses case

As the smoke continued to settle after the dramatic events of April 20, when police used explosives to blow down the front door of Vladimír Mečiar's Trenčianske Teplice villa and charged him with abuse of power, those opposing the arrest claimed that the legal case against the former prime minister and party boss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is both full of holes and hypocritical.
Two other Slovak prime ministers - Bratislava Mayor Jozef Moravčík and current Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda - both gave similar bonuses during their respective tenures. But police officials said that Moravčík and Dzurinda were not charged because neither man had known he was breaking the law, while Mečiar had been fully aware of his legal violation.

As the smoke continued to settle after the dramatic events of April 20, when police used explosives to blow down the front door of Vladimír Mečiar's Trenčianske Teplice villa and charged him with abuse of power, those opposing the arrest claimed that the legal case against the former prime minister and party boss of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is both full of holes and hypocritical.

Two other Slovak prime ministers - Bratislava Mayor Jozef Moravčík and current Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda - both gave similar bonuses during their respective tenures. But police officials said that Moravčík and Dzurinda were not charged because neither man had known he was breaking the law, while Mečiar had been fully aware of his legal violation.

That line of defence led Mečiar to publicly joke about the April 20 affair after his release that day. "I told the policemen driving me to Bratislava that we should stop by and grab Dzurinda and Moravčík as well because they did the same thing," he said.

But Magda Krasulová, spokeswoman of the Slovak Police Investigation unit, said on April 28 that the charges were no laughing matter. "The police have collected official documents and evidence, and on April 4 they began investigating the case against Mečiar that he had issued [13.82 million Slovak crowns - $321,000] in illegal bonuses," she said. "As for the other cases [of Moravčík and Dzurinda], while we can't exclude the possibility of their status changing [to being charged with a crime], we would first have to prove that they had known they were breaking the law."

Krasulová added that it was unlikely either would ever be charged because the police had no evidence that Moravčík ever granted illegal bonuses and because Dzurinda demanded the money back after he realised that the payments had been illegal.

Mečiar's attorney, Miroslav Abelovský, responded on May 3 by saying that his client would never spend a day in jail because the case prepared by the police was lacking legal grounds.

"It's impossible to put him in jail because the charge has several shortcomings," he said. "First of all, the decision to issue the bonuses was made by the government as a collective body - Mr. Mečiar just signed off on it, like Moravčík and Dzurinda did as prime ministers. Secondly, the legal community is still divided as to whether the bonuses were paid illegally or not. Thirdly, the prosecutor still hasn't decided whether he will give the OK for the criminal charges to proceed."

Krasulová countered that investigators would not have laid the charges against Mečiar if they had not first prepared a strong case. "To charge somebody with this kind of crime, it has to be clear that the suspect broke the law on purpose and that he knew it was illegal," she said, explaining that while ignorance of the law was no defence in Slovakia, fraud cases were tricky in that they contained this element of intent.

Krasulová added that she was sure that Mečiar had been officially told by the Supreme Control Office (NKÚ - a parliament-appointed watchdog that monitors how state money is spent) that the bonuses were illegal before he issued them.

Moravčík, for his part, told The Slovak Spectator that while he had, in fact, awarded his ministers a bonus in 1994 of somewhere around 15,000 thousand Slovak crowns each, he had done so under a different law which allowed him to grant such bonuses. "I don't remember the exact amount of money but it was in accordance with the law," he said on April 28. "I paid that money from a disposition fund [a special government fund separate from the state budget - Ed note.]."

While the laying of criminal charges against Moravčík and Dzurinda remains a possibility, Krasulová said she thought it unlikely. "Mr. Dzurinda and Mr. Moravčík will be asked to testify in the case against Mečiar, but only as witnesses - their status is different than his."

Both said they had yet to be contacted by the police, but that they would testify when and if asked to do so.

Abelovský, meanwhile, said that the whole case was nothing more than an attempted political execution destined to fail. "This case has no support. They are just trying to punish Mr. Mečiar with these tactics. I'm sure an independent court will show how vague their charges are and we will win the case."

Krasulová said that she could not predict when the case would be closed. If convicted for issuing the allegedly illegal bonuses, Mečiar could face between 3 and 10 years in prison.

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