THE FORMER mayor of the Rača district of Bratislava, Pavol Bielik, made no concrete steps that would indicate that he had demanded a bribe for his “surplus labour”, a senate of the Slovak Supreme Court ruled on September 30.
The Supreme Court’s senate acquitted Bielik of the charge of corruption and found there was no evidence that unequivocally proved that Bielik had asked for a bribe.
“We do not have unambiguous and 100-percent proof that he requested such a sum for any action,” the president of the senate, Judge Peter Hatala, said, as quoted by the ČTK newswire.
The court, thus, did not rule that a crime had not occurred but neither could rule that it definitely happened.
The court wrote that Bielik had not spoken to any member of a commission that was to decide about an application for a construction license as was alleged by the chief witness against Bielik, Jaroslav Šuščák. The court came to the conclusion that Bielik created no space to ask for a bribe. The verdict of a Supreme Court senate cannot normally be appealed, SITA wrote.
Šuščák testified that he had asked the chair of the board of directors of the Invest In company to give a bribe of Sk1 million (€165,970) in 2004 for securing the support of then-Mayor Bielik and for Bielik to make sure the local council would approve the license and the town-planning design to reconstruct one building and build four houses in the Pri vinohradoch neighbourhood.
Unlike Bielik, Šuščák was not acquitted of charges against him and prosecution and court hearings will continue in his case. The Supreme Court cancelled the decision of the Specialised Criminal Court to drop charges against him and returned the case to the Specialised Criminal Court for a new trial. Judge Hatala said that it is evident that Šuščák requested money from the Invest In company and that he sought to influence the mayor.
Over six years of prosecution
Bielik and Šuščák were accused of bribery in 2004 when Pavol Kollár’s Invest In company wanted to pursue a construction project in Rača which required the local council’s approval. Šuščák, a businessman, contacted Kollár and told him that nothing was possible without a bribe; the price was allegedly set at Sk5 million (approximately €165,000, at current exchange rates).
Allegedly, the Rača mayor asked for the bribe by drawing the number ‘5’ on a piece of paper, according to the Sme daily.
The Supreme Court reasoned that there was no direct phone recording in which Bielik asked for a bribe. According to Sme, the court found that there was not sufficient evidence against Šuščák either, though it did not question that he did demand money from Kollár. According to phone intercepts used as evidence in court, Kollár told Šuščák that “just as we agreed, I saw the mayor to check whether it is those 5 percent [of the investment]” and Šuščák responded that “I have no reason to say anything else”. Then Kollár said that “the mayor wanted the money up front, but I tried to convince him to divide it into two parts – one for the planning permission, and the other for the construction permit.”
Then according to the phone intercepts which were reprinted by Sme on March 17, Kollár said that the mayor was not very forthcoming and said “five percent”, while Šuščák responded “he certainly pressed also for some plot for himself”.
Šuščák, who allegedly acted as the mayor’s bag carrier, also said “I'm just doing this as a favour to the mayor, because he is doing other things for me. I have other companies that sort of do engineering activities, and blah blah blah.”
Kollár then turned to the police and from that point all conversations were recorded. However, the alleged bribe was never handed over because information about the investigation had been leaked to Bielik.
The case was first heard at the Special Court (the predecessor of the Specialised Criminal Court) in November 2005, as one of that court’s first cases involving high-level political corruption.
Innocent after two guilty verdicts
In January 2007, the Special Court sentenced Bielik to five years in prison on corruption charges and banned him from holding public office for seven years. Šuščák was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail. The Special Court sentenced Bielik twice but the Supreme Court cancelled both the original verdicts and returned each conviction to the court for retrial.
In March 2010 the Specialised Criminal Court acquitted the defendants, saying it had not been proved that the act for which the two were originally convicted had actually happened.
Special prosecutor Ján Hrivňák appealed against the verdict that freed the defendants saying that it is not a good signal to those who might potentially report a crime to the police.
The main witness in the case, Pavol Kollár, also said that after this verdict he would not turn to the police again.
“Today, I would not go to the police,” Kollár said, as quoted by the Sme daily. “It is a hopeless defeat for society.”
The head of the court senate explained the not-guilty verdict by referring to the fact that the Specialised Criminal Court was obliged to follow an earlier, legally binding, decision issued by the Supreme Court after it quashed the original verdict for a second time.
The Supreme Court argued that several findings of the Special Court were unclear and that the court had unconditionally accepted the testimony of the main witness.
The Supreme Court, according to Sme, also suggested that there could have been political interference in the case and that Slovakia’s SIS intelligence service could have been involved.
The Supreme Court also warned that there had been mistakes in documenting the act of taking the bribe, which was not ultimately handed over, and suggested that the basic principle of the Slovak penal code is that in case of doubt the court should rule on behalf of the accused, that unproven guilt has the same significance as proven innocence.
The prosecution, however, maintains that requesting a bribe is itself a crime and states that the request for a bribe was documented by phone interceptions which subsequently allegedly disappeared at the time when KDH-nominee Vladimir Palko served as Interior Minister. The court only had transcripts of those recordings at its disposal.
“We don’t really know what exactly was in the recordings; we can believe those transcripts but cannot believe whether any names weren’t dropped from them,” Judge Hatala said, as quoted by the ČTK newswire.
Bielik is KDH member again
Before he was accused Bielik was a prominent KDH official. After the start of his prosecution, the KDH changed its statute in August 2004 so that its board could suspend an official’s membership in the party after the charges a brought against a party member until a final decision by the courts.
KDH did so in Bielik’s case and his party membership was automatically re-instated after the Supreme Court’s non-guilty verdict. Sme reported that shortly after the court announced its verdict Bielik visited the KDH headquarters.
“He did not specify the reason for his visit and since none of the KDH politicians were there, he left,” Matej Kováč, the KDH spokesperson, told Sme.
11. Oct 2010 at 0:00 | Compiled by Michaela Terenzani from press reports