The Košice district court on January 8 halted criminal proceedings against Róbert Okoličány for extortion, reasoning that it would be “ineffective” to continue because the reputed Košice mafia boss and his accomplices face more serious charges of murder and attempted murder before the Special Court for organised crime.
So what does the mafia in Slovakia have to do to actually be tried and convicted?
In this case, the Košice district court based its decision on paragraphs 215 and 218 of the old Code of Criminal Proceedings, which gave prosecutors and courts the power to stop cases “if the penalty that can be awarded in the case is less severe than the penalty that has already been levied on the accused or can reasonably be expected in another case”. In other words, the courts are not obliged to go to the expense of trying convicted murderers for petty theft.
Arrested in 2005, Okoličány and 15 others have been charged with 19 crimes including five murders, attempted murder, assault causing bodily harm, and extortion. Proceedings were broken off in the Special Court last year after the court heard 144 witnesses, leaving the violent crew a long way from being found guilty. Thus, the Košice court verdict could mean that Okoličány gets off scot free if the Special Court finds him innocent. More than that, the court was not obliged to drop the charges, but apparently took the initiative to cut Okoličány a little slack.
Don’t we want the courts to try dangerous criminals on every charge brought against them? If they did, it would not merely increase the likelihood that they actually served time, but it would also be a measure of how well the police and prosecution are doing their jobs. Now, if the Košice court’s verdict is upheld, we will never know whether Okoličány, as the police allege, actually organised the extortion of Sk1 million from the Energyco company in 2002, or whether this was another case from the 2001-2006 era of police anti-mafia crusader Jaroslav Spišiak that has collapsed due to prosecution resistance or court incompetence.
As Supreme Court justice Štefan Minárik read out his poisonous verdict against the accused in the 1976 murder of medical student Ľudmila Cervanová last year, spectators might have been excused for praying that they never found themselves at the mercy of Slovakia’s courts and their whimsical notion of justice. The mafia, on the other hand, seems to have even less to fear from the country’s legal system.
21. Jan 2008 at 0:00 | Commentary by Tom Nicholson, Sme