Justice Minister Štefan Harabin has become the next president of Slovakia’s Supreme Court as well as head of the country’s Judicial Council after 15 members of the 17-member Judicial Council elected the nominee of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Party (HZDS) to the post on June 22.
His only opponent, Supreme Court Justice Eva Babiaková, did not receive a single vote. Harabin came to head the Justice Ministry from the position as a Justice at the Supreme Court. For the time of his ministerial term, his duties as a judge were suspended.
The public service Slovak Radio reported that after Harabin was elected a group of protesters expressed strong disagreement with the election of Harabin to the post. Harabin first thanked the members of the Judicial Council for their trust in him.
According to the daily Sme newspaper, Harabin’s opponent, Babiaková, had said before the election that she might appeal to the Constitutional Court to review whether there was equality of chances for each candidate in the June 22 elections.
Former Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic said that electing Harabin to the post will lead to lower credibility of Slovakia’s judiciary. Lipšic suggested that issues like taxes might be vigorously debated but not the fact that the Supreme Court should not be led by someone who has contacts with the alleged boss of the Albanian drug mafia, the SITA newswire wrote.
“It is bad for the independence of the judiciary when a man of a top political position goes to serve as president of the Supreme Court,” Lipšic told SITA.
There was a last-minute protest against Harabin by several non-governmental organizations on June 22, in front of the Justice Ministry building, where the Judicial Council held its vote.
The protest followed a rally on June 19 that attracted several hundred people. The rally started with the reading of a transcript of an audio recording of a phone conversation between Harabin and Baki Sadiki, the suspected head of the Albanian drug mafia in Slovakia. The protest was initiated by a political ethics watchdog, the Fair-Play Alliance.
The alliance had also launched an electronic protest at a website, www.cervenapreharabina.sk, which means “Red light for Harabin”, which has argued that as the ‘first person’ of the judiciary a candidate must have an unblemished record and should perform tasks independently with deep respect for justice, truth and ethics. Such a person, according to the alliance’s website, should be able to lead by example.
“We see Štefan Harabin for his past concrete acts to be a direct threat to justice, independence, impartiality, honesty and the judiciary as such,” the Fair Play Alliance wrote on its website. “Minister Harabin was publicly caught lying at a parliamentary session and threatening a deputy as well as making unacceptable references to race and origin. Štefan Harabin also has had unacceptable personal contacts with a person suspected of drug-related crimes.”
The alliance referred to the minister’s alleged contacts with Baki Sadiki who has been accused of involvement in the heroin trade and who has been convicted of various crimes, including illegal possession of firearms.
Last September, opposition parties, at the initiative of Christian Democratic Movement MP Lipšic, launched a parliamentary attempt to have the justice minister sacked for what Lipšic called Harabin’s friendly ties with Sadiki. The no-confidence motion failed.
The local media, including the Sme daily, reported on the case in detail and printed a transcript of a tape-recording of a 1994 telephone conversation between Harabin (who at the time was a Supreme Court judge) and Sadiki. Harabin subsequently sent letters to several publishers of daily and weekly periodicals asking for an out-of-court settlement totalling €600,000 for what he called articles that had severely damaged his good reputation and honour.