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POLICE APPLAUDED FOR TAKING ON TOP OFFICIALS

Corruption affair continues

OPPOSITION MP Gabriel Karlin remains in custody over charges of accepting a half-million-crown bribe after prosecutors rejected the MP's complaint about being held behind bars following his November 25 arrest.
Karlin's complaint went back to a November 28 decision by district judge Eduard Heinrich from Nitra, who ruled that Karlin and Milan Mráz, the head of the office of the Banská Bystrica higher territorial unit (VÚC) who is charged with the same crime, would remain in custody while investigation into the case continues.

OPPOSITION MP Gabriel Karlin remains in custody over charges of accepting a half-million-crown bribe after prosecutors rejected the MP's complaint about being held behind bars following his November 25 arrest.

Karlin's complaint went back to a November 28 decision by district judge Eduard Heinrich from Nitra, who ruled that Karlin and Milan Mráz, the head of the office of the Banská Bystrica higher territorial unit (VÚC) who is charged with the same crime, would remain in custody while investigation into the case continues. Justice Heinrich argued that he did not want the two men to influence witnesses in the case.

The recent corruption scandal is the first of its kind in the history of the Slovak police. According to Heinrich, both men insisted that they were innocent after being charged.

Observers noted that the case has confirmed bribery is a massive problem in top as well as in municipal politics, and they praised the work of police for demonstrating determination to reveal bribery scandals regardless of the public ranks the suspects may hold.

"The attitude of the country's repression units needs to be appreciated here," said Daniela Zemanovičová, program director for the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Slovakia.

"The case has definitely confirmed that bribery is a problem in top politics and on the municipal level as well," she said.

Initially, the members of Karlin's party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) said that they accepted the state of affairs in the case, as presented to them prior to stripping Karlin of his MP immunity. Later on, however, the head of the party, Vladimír Mečiar, suggested that he was not sure that politics did not play a role in the case.

HZDS deputy chairman Viliam Veteška said to The Slovak Spectator on November 26 "I want to stress that we do not see any political intentions behind the case."

"The process has been started and, in the future, perhaps even some bigger fish could be caught as well."

Mečiar later said, however, there could be politics involved in the case as, in his opinion, the Interior Ministry has been working specifically on HZDS MPs for six years now.

"I am not sure whether Mr Karlin did it. Let us wait for the investigation, as there are many open issues [in the affair]," Mečiar said.

"Presidential elections are coming; the [HZDS] party needs to be discredited," Mečiar said in parliament on November 28.

Boris Ažaltovič, the Interior Ministry spokesman, denied such allegations.

"As Interior Minister Vladimír Palko and police vice-president Jaroslav Spišiak said earlier, the bribe was demanded [rather than offered to the charged men] and according to the evidence that was presented in parliament to MPs, even the legislators agreed with the prosecution," he said.

Unlike in the past, when stripping MPs of their immunity was in almost every case a problematic issue that included accusations of investigators' alleged political motives, a decisive 108 of the present 111 MPs voted in favour of surrendering Karlin to criminal prosecution on November 27.

Immunity prevents MPs from being prosecuted.

"Police and the investigators are obliged to prosecute individuals regardless of their public posts. I exclude political motives [from being behind the case]," Ažaltovič said to The Slovak Spectator on December 1.

Police also confirmed that they have been working on the Karlin case since August this year and that about 40 witnesses are to be heard.

Karlin's lawyer, Vladimír Zvara, said to the Slovak daily Pravda on December 2 that he expected the court would "decide within two weeks" whether his client is to be released from custody.

The prosecution would then continue with Karlin out of custody. Zvara insisted that his client would not make any effort to influence witnesses.

The case has also reopened the issue of narrowing MP's immunity as well as the passage of other anti-corruption laws that would make life difficult for crooked state and municipal officials (see the story above).

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