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Court rejects property law

A LAW on transparency which at its inception was heralded as a weapon to fight corruption and organised crime has been struck down for being at odds with Slovakia’s constitution. The Constitutional Court ruled against the legislation, which would have entitled the state to seize property valued at more than a thousand times the monthly minimum wage if the owner could not legally document how he or she had obtained it. The state’s entitlement would have been limited to the difference between the value of the property in question and the owner's declared income.

A LAW on transparency which at its inception was heralded as a weapon to fight corruption and organised crime has been struck down for being at odds with Slovakia’s constitution. The Constitutional Court ruled against the legislation, which would have entitled the state to seize property valued at more than a thousand times the monthly minimum wage if the owner could not legally document how he or she had obtained it. The state’s entitlement would have been limited to the difference between the value of the property in question and the owner's declared income.



The law was initiated in 2005 by Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, which at the time was in opposition, and was supported by the Justice Ministry of the government of Mikuláš Dzurinda.

Both sides backed the law, saying that it would expose people who obtained their property under questionable circumstances and bring them to justice. It was a rare occasion on which opposition deputies voted in line with the governing coalition.

However, the Constitutional Court on September 3 said that the entire law is unconstitutional since it interferes in ownership rights and is retroactive.

“The challenged law violates the constitutional principle of legal security and is retroactive in relation to the obtained rights while allowing extensive intrusion into the right to property ownership,” reads the official statement of the Constitutional Court. “The intrusions into ownership rights are linked to an insufficiently identified duty ad infinitum to be able to prove the origin of the property.”

The challenged law also inappropriately moves the burden of proof from public and state institutions to citizens and thus installs a new, until now unknown and non-transparent way of expropriating property, the Constitutional Court said.

Prime Minister Robert Fico told the media that he did not like the decision of the Constitutional Court but he must respect it.

“I am for a strict law, but it must be in line with the constitution,” said Fico, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Fico also said that his government would draft new legislation.

Another option is to pass a proposal similar to the law submitted by opposition deputies Vladimír Palko and Pavol Minárik in April 2008. At the time, the opposition Slovak Democratic and Democratic Union (SDKÚ) was supportive of the idea.

If the proposal is adopted in the form of a constitutional law it would override the decision of the court. A constitutional law requires the support of 90 deputies in the 150-member parliament: a so-called a constitutional majority.

Meanwhile, Fico also asked the chairwoman of the Constitutional Court, Iveta Macejková, about the constitutional options for the government now that the court has struck down the proposed law.

“The opinion of the Constitutional Court on whether it is possible to submit and pass a constitutional law with the same content as the law which was declared unconstitutional is particularly important,” Fico’s spokeswoman, Silvia Glendová, said in a statement on September 4.

The law was challenged in September 2005 by a group of MPS from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), including Katarína Tóthova and Ján Drgonec, and the court suspended the law on October 6, 2005.

The HZDS, which is now a junior partner in the governing coalition, said it was content with the Constitutional Court ruling. For years, the media has been probing the origins of HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar’s property holdings. He has been unable to explain, for example, how he acquired the necessary funds to purchase and restore a luxurious villa in Trenčianske Teplice.



(With press reports)


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