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EDITORIAL

Corruption keeps with tradition

THE HIGH-ranking member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) recently accused of corruption joins a long list of the party's representatives active in Bratislava regional politics suspected of abusing their powers.
In nearly all of these cases, it seems that the responsible authorities are in no haste to bring answers to some fundamental questions.
Pavol Bielik, mayor of the Rača section of Bratislava is the latest KDH member to be implicated in illegal activity. The police have gathered evidence indicating that Bielik asked for a bribe and that he used municipal property without the required consent of the Rača council.

THE HIGH-ranking member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) recently accused of corruption joins a long list of the party's representatives active in Bratislava regional politics suspected of abusing their powers.

In nearly all of these cases, it seems that the responsible authorities are in no haste to bring answers to some fundamental questions.

Pavol Bielik, mayor of the Rača section of Bratislava is the latest KDH member to be implicated in illegal activity. The police have gathered evidence indicating that Bielik asked for a bribe and that he used municipal property without the required consent of the Rača council.

The police have now lost phone recordings which served as key evidence against Bielik, leading to calls for the resignation of Interior Minister Vladimír Palko, vice chairman of the KDH.

The KDH has played a dominant role in Bratislava's municipal politics since the fall of communism in 1989. The first direct mayoral elections at the end of 1990 brought close victory to Peter Kresánek, who later became a KDH member.

In the 1994 municipal elections, Kresánek left his challengers in the race for the mayoral office far behind, ensuring him another four-year term at the top of Bratislava's executive branch. Four years later, former Prime Minister Jozef Moravčík replaced him. Moravčík was a member of the Democratic Union, but the KDH was among the parties that supported his nomination.

In 2002 it was again a member of the KDH who took the seat as Andrej Ďurkovský, former mayor of Bratislava's Old Town, won the vote.

A coalition led by the KDH gained 37 out of the total 80 city council members in those elections. Candidates for mayor backed by the KDH won the local elections in 10 of Bratislava's 17 sections.

The KDH's strong position in local politics in Bratislava was also documented by the first elections for the council in the Bratislava self-governing region. A coalition of the KDH and other right-wing parties, which now form the ruling coalition in national parliament, took 40 out of 46 seats in the council, as well as the post of the head of the region.

The Christian Democrats continue to produce good results in the local political arena, despite a series of past scandals.

Ex-Mayor Kresánek was suspected of wrongdoing in connection with the sale of the office building where the party's headquarters were situated to a company owned by a top KDH representative.

Kresánek allegedly violated the city council's decision regarding the sale and, without authorisation, changed the terms of the sale contract signed with the firm.

Among other violations, Kresánek's version of the agreement allowed for a postponed payment of Sk14 million (€349,183), the already low price agreed on for a building worth around Sk100 million (€2.5 million), according to some published estimates.

At the time, problems with liquidity were cited as the primary reason for the hasty sale and low price.

The police investigation of the matter initially faced obstructions, as the KDH-controlled city council failed to enable an inquiry into the damages the city suffered as result of Kresánek's actions.

In 2001 Kresánek, at the time a member of parliament, agreed to be stripped of his parliamentary immunity in order to enable the police to take a thorough look at the suspect real-estate deal. The matter, which occurred in the mid-1990s, has yet to be resolved by the courts.

The building received extensive media attention a year ago when Pavol Rusko, head of coalition party the New Citizen's Alliance, accused the Christian Democrats of obtaining Sk10 million (€249,417) for the purchase of the building from entrepreneur František Mojžiš.

Mojžiš owned the firm Drukos, which operated one of Slovakia's non-licensed banking institutions.

Most of these firms were pyramid schemes that lured cash out of trusting investors on the promise of high returns, but were able to perform on their obligation only in the initial phases when new deposits brought in sufficient funds to pay old clients.

Unlike other people running such businesses, Mojžiš was never subject to pre-trial custody following the collapse of his company.

Both the KDH and Mojžiš denied the claims.

Another shady deal in which the KDH has been implicated is connected with the repair of public lighting in the Slovak capital. Media reported that a firm with close ties to the KDH that formally employed tens of the party's functionaries, received payments in the millions of crowns from Siemens, the main contractor for the work.

Siemens was awarded the job, worth Sk1.9 billion (€47.4 million), by city representatives in 1996, when most of the top seats in the city were controlled by the KDH.

Perhaps most worrying, however, are the allegations of election fraud in one of Bratislava's election districts. In the 2002 local elections, outcomes in one of Bratislava precincts seemed to stand out from other results in numerous aspects.

A later investigation showed that candidates of the KDH were awarded more votes by the local election commission than they received from voters. As a result, two duly elected representatives were blocked from their seats in the city and city-section councils.

The voting commission was comprised of two long-term KDH members, an 18-year-old student, and two retirees appointed by the town section's administration because no political party had appointed their representatives to the particular commission.

The criminal investigation now seems to be at a standstill. The matter is also before the Constitutional Court, which is to decide on the complaints of those candidates who were stripped of their seats.

So even today, nearly halfway through the election term, two representatives of the KDH continue to hold seats to which they have no right. And nothing seems to indicate that the situation will change in the foreseeable future.

None of the previous suspicions have done much damage to the KDH's strong position in Bratislava's local politics. The question is how far the Christian Democrats are ready to go.

By Lukáš Fila

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