FINANCE Minister Ivan Mikloš has fined the Supreme Court €33,000 after its president Štefan Harabin repeatedly prevented ministerial inspectors from entering the court in order to carry out a financial audit. In addition, Harabin himself was personally fined €1,000, the SITA newswire reported.
Ministerial inspectors tried to begin an audit at the Supreme Court on July 29, but Harabin prevented them from doing so, Mikloš said.
“This [behaviour] could also constitute an abuse of judicial independence,” Mikloš suggested, as quoted by SITA. He stressed that both the Supreme Court and its president are paid for by taxpayers, and therefore the Finance Ministry is entitled to review the legality and effectiveness of their spending. Similar audits took place in 2007 and 2009.
This time around, Mikloš signed a mandate for the audit which set it to start on July 27. According to the minister, the administrative director of the Supreme Court, Ján Hurban, asked the ministry to postpone the start date to July 29.
“We accepted their request and came at the time they requested... and, eventually, the Supreme Court president personally prevented the audit by questioning the validity of the mandate for the audit,” SITA quoted Mikloš as saying.
Harabin argued that the mandate referred to the audit starting on July 27 and not July 29, which is when the auditors arrived, a move which Mikloš sees as “a clear and obvious obstruction”. Auditors were again refused access by the court on August 2.
Meanwhile, Harabin requested that the Supreme Audit Office carry out an audit at the Supreme Court instead.
“It would be an audit aimed at the same area as the Finance Ministry had planned,” Harabin said, as quoted by SITA. “I also issued an order to have all financial contracts published on the internet. We have nothing to conceal, citizens can create a picture of the management of public funds at the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic for themselves.”
The media subsequently noted that the Supreme Audit Office is headed by Ján Jasovský, who earlier served as a minister after being nominated by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). This is the same party that nominated Harabin as justice minister, the job he held prior to becoming Supreme Court president.
According to SITA, Harabin claimed the ministry’s audit was politicised and that Mikloš’s aim was to create a scandal at the Supreme Court and have its budgetary independence removed.
Harabin claimed that a previous resolution by the Slovak Constitutional Court means that an executive political power, such as the Finance Ministry, may not carry out an audit at the Supreme Court. “The rulings of the senate of the Slovak Constitutional Court must be respected in a country with the rule of law,” Harabin stated, as quoted by SITA.
But the Constitutional Court has also accepted several previous ministerial audits, its president Ivetta Macejková confirmed to SITA.
The Finance Ministry said it remains committed to carrying out a government audit at the Supreme Court, in line with the law on financial audits. Mikloš said the audit would take place and would be very thorough. He also said that he is prepared to slap another fine on the Supreme Court if Harabin again bars the ministry’s auditors.
However, Harabin blocked a third attempt by auditors to gain access to the court and begin their audit on August 3. He was at the time out of office at a previously planned session of the Judicial Council outside Bratislava.
A fourth attempt also failed on Wednesday, August 4. Following that, the ministry gave Harabin till the end of the week to allow the audit.
“If we receive notification that the inspection can proceed by Friday [August 6], I'll consider the whole situation remedied,” Mikloš said, as quoted by the TASR newswire, adding that he didn’t expect that to happen, however. If the inspection is still blocked at that time, the Supreme Court will have to pay the €33,000 fine, and Harabin himself will have to pay his €1,000 fine. If Harabin chooses to cause further obstructions, Mikloš is entitled to impose another set of fines, TASR reported.
Harabin spoke to journalists about the programme statement of the government on August 3, the same day that it was being presented in parliament. He criticised it for not containing a single step to solve what he called the sorest problems of the judiciary, SITA reported. He said he wants to present his objections to it in parliament.
Harabin said he believes Finance Minister Mikloš wants to achieve personnel changes, take over the Supreme Court financially, and liquidate him from his post as its president.
“I can assure Mr. Mikloš that he will not threaten me like Hitler threatened Supreme Court judges in Norway,” SITA quoted Harabin as saying. “I will not be intimidated.”
Mikloš said that by blocking the ministerial audit Harabin might be abusing the independence granted to courts and judges.
“If any other public official or minister acted like this, I would have submitted a proposal for his or her dismissal long ago,” Mikloš said, as quoted by SITA. “Štefan Harabin is using the fact that judges cannot be dismissed in this way.”
Mikloš admitted that at the moment the only way to sanction the Supreme Court and its president is to award fines.
9. Aug 2010 at 0:00 | By Michaela Stanková with press reports