FOR THE FIRST time in Slovak history, a legislator was arrested after police caught the MP taking a Sk500,000 (€24,100) bribe in his office.
Gabriel Karlin, member of the opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (ĽS-HZDS), was arrested on November 25 in his party's office in Banská Bystrica. Along with the MP, the head of office of the Banská Bystrica greater territorial unit (VÚC), Milan Mráz was apprehended, police confirmed.
One day later, the parliamentary immunity committee, composed of ten members, including three HZDS MPs, voted unanimously to keep Karlin in custody.
To enable further investigation, the MP will face a vote in parliament to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, surrendering him to criminal prosecution on November 27.
The police operation that caught the 56-year-old MP, a member of the parliamentary agriculture committee, involved an undercover police agent, the Interior Ministry confirmed.
Interior Minister Vladimír Palko said that Karlin and Mráz may be sentenced for up to eight years in prison if found guilty.
Palko said at a press conference on November 26 that Karlin and Mráz each took Sk500,000 (€24,100) bribes and that Mráz has already been charged with accepting bribes. Karlin will be charged after being stripped of immunity.
According to Palko, the bribe came from a businessman who won a contract from the local VÚC authorities to build a school gym in a town in the Banská Bystrica region. The businessman reported to the police that the men asked for the bribes.
Police vice-president Jaroslav Spišiak added that an agreed provision for both men was five percent of the value of the contract. In the event that the regional authorities agreed to increase the contract sum, each of the officials would receive 10 percent of the increased amount, Spišiak said.
According to Palko, a policeman entered Karlin's office just after the two men took their money and Karlin was leaving.
"It was quite a pretty police action," Palko said.
Further investigation of Karlin depends on whether parliament agrees to strip the MP of immunity. According to the head of the parliamentary immunity committee, Ľubomír Lintner, a majority of present MPs have to vote for it.
"I cannot see the future, but my impression is that the chamber will support the stripping of immunity," Lintner said to The Slovak Spectator on November 26, one day before the vote was to take place.
Lintner said that the Karlin case revealed that corruption at all levels was a reality in Slovakia.
"This is extremely sad and it confirms that, when we talk about corruption in Slovakia, we know that it also takes place in the highest places. It remains questionable whether this is an isolated case. Maybe it is not," Linter added.
According to Lintner, Karlin has disgraced his deputy status.
The state-run TASR news agency reported that several coalition MPs said the case put parliamentary and general politics in a bad light, although Tomáš Galbavý, an MP for the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union said the case was a signal that "the police act regardless of how high people sit."
HZDS MP Tibor Cabaj, a member of the immunity committee, refused to comment for The Slovak Spectator via telephone, stating that he was "not a phone operator".
Viliam Veteška, deputy speaker of the Slovak parliament and member of the HZDS, told The Slovak Spectator on November 26 that he and his party "respect the legal status of the affair, as presented by the special prosecutor [to the immunity committee], and we expect that the general prosecutor will present the most convincing documentation of the case in his request to strip the MP of immunity."
"Based on the documents, the HZDS caucus will decide how to vote, and it is not out of the question that we will support the stripping of immunity," Veteška said.
He added: "I am more than sorry that this came at a time when our party is gaining new credibility on the political scene. It is a big blow for our party."
1. Dec 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová