A COURT in eastern Slovakia’s Košice has halted an extortion case against a local organised crime boss based on a controversial interpretation of the country’s criminal law.
The Košice II district court ruled on January 8 that because Róbert Okoličány faced a heavier sentence in a murder and racketeering case now being tried in a higher court, it made no sense to continue trying him on a lesser charge stemming from an incident in 2002.
However, legal experts said that the court’s ruling contradicted the intent of the law, and pointed out that if the Special Court for organised crime failed to convict him on the murder charges, Okoličány could go free.
“The law says that in the interest of efficiency, the court may halt proceedings against the accused if the penalty they face is ‘completely irrelevant’ compared to the penalty they either face or have been issued in another case,” said Bratislava attorney Ernest Valko, the former chief justice of the Constitutional Court.
“However, how the judge interprets this always depends on the case in question. Besides, the law does not spell out what it means by a ‘completely irrelevant’ penalty.”
Moreover, in Okoličany’s case, the court was ruling according to the old Code of Criminal Procedures, which was updated as of January 1, 2006. Now, courts can only halt such proceedings if a heavier penalty has already been imposed; the change was introduced precisely to prevent serious criminals from beating every rap against them by winning a single major case.
Attorney General Dobroslav Trnka promised that the state prosecutor in Košice would appeal the court’s decision, and noted that the court had not been required by law to drop the charges.
The judge on the case refused to explain his verdict except to say through a spokeswoman that “the old law is more favorable to the accused”.
Former justice minister Daniel Lipšic, now an MP for the opposition Christian Democrats, questioned the verdict.
“I would like to know if the court first informed itself of how the Special Court case was going, given that it evidently concluded that the accused was likely to receive a heavier penalty,” he said.
Okoličány was on trial in Košice with accomplices Ján Borza and Pavol Gašpar for allegedly extorting a million crowns from the owner of the Energyco firm after they discovered he had signed a lucrative contract with steel mill U.S. Steel Košice. The latter two received suspended sentences, with Borza appealing his. On two previous occasions, the court had found only Gašpar guilty, but the Košice regional court twice overturned its findings.
“This charge was invented by the police to get at me,” Okoličány told the court.
The main case against Okolicány’s gang in the higher court involves 16 defendants and 19 charges, related to five murders, several attempted murders, violent assaults, weapons offenses, extortion and racketeering.
Among the murders Okoličány is alleged to have committed is that of former Košice mob boss Jozef Eštok in April 2005, in which a bystander, Roman Straka, was killed in the machine gun attack.