Ex-ministers face criminal charges

CRIMINAL responsibility for one of the most notorious cases of alleged corruption to arise during the last government – the so-called bulletin-board tender – now rests on the shoulders of specific people following a decision by police to charge four people, including a former minister.

CRIMINAL responsibility for one of the most notorious cases of alleged corruption to arise during the last government – the so-called bulletin-board tender – now rests on the shoulders of specific people following a decision by police to charge four people, including a former minister.

Another former minister, Igor Štefanov, who currently sits in parliament as an MP for the Slovak National Party (SNS), may also face criminal charges if parliament votes to lift his immunity from prosecution.

Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic announced on March 9 that four people had been charged with tampering with a public procurement. At the same time, a motion was filed with the duty prosecutor to request that parliament strip a fifth suspect of his immunity from prosecution.

“Charges have been brought against M.J. for the crime of machination in public procurement, the crime of violating duties in administering others’ property, and for the particularly serious crime of abusing the powers of public officials,” Lipšic said.

Another three people were charged with the crime of machination.

M.J. was reported to be Štefanov’s predecessor as construction minister, Marián Janušek. Both were nominated by the SNS. According to Lipšic, the charges, if proved, could result in a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.

Contract was ready before bids were opened

The tender attracted massive criticism from the moment it became public knowledge. The first alleged violation of rules occurred in May 2007, when the Construction Ministry under Janušek announced a tender worth Sk3.6 billion (€119.5 million) for technical services connected with the use of EU funds.

The tender notice appeared solely on an internal bulletin board at the SNS-controlled ministry, in an area not normally accessible to the public.

The police investigation revealed that the ministry’s officer responsible for the tender had had a draft contract naming the winning consortium ready in her computer before bid envelopes were even due to be opened by the tender commission, the Sme daily reported on March 10.

The contract was awarded to the sole bidder, a consortium of companies including Avocat and Zamedia, which are both reported to have close ties to SNS leader Ján Slota. Both Janušek and Štefanov were later dismissed from their ministerial posts, Janušek after an audit by the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO) showed that the law on public procurement had been violated, and Štefanov after repeated audits by the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) which cast serious doubt on the use of more than €3 million paid to Avocat and Zamedia as part of the contract.

The report suggested that €32,000 (0.2 percent) of the total amount of €13 million paid out before the contract was cancelled was not used in accordance with the purpose stipulated. In addition, it said the ministry has not been able to provide acceptable documentation to account for €3.14 million, the expenditure of which was recorded only by declarations by the provider that it had delivered the services in question.

After he was requested by the cabinet to do so, Štefanov terminated the contract with the consortium by agreement in May 2009. The European Commission also analysed the controversial tender and decided not to reimburse Slovakia for any of the funds spent as a result of it.

Will Štefanov be stripped of immunity?

Prior to his elevation, Štefanov was a key lieutenant of Janušek at the ministry and his signature appears on many of the key tender documents. If the parliament votes to strip him of his immunity, he is likely to be judged on his part in the case.

The parliament can only vote on removing Štefanov’s immunity if the general prosecutor requests it. The competencies of the general prosecutor, whose post is currently vacant, are being handled by the deputy general prosecutor Ladislav Tichý.

Parties of the current ruling coalition, who heavily criticised the tender when they were in opposition, now say they are ready to strip Štefanov of his immunity, which makes it likely that Štefanov will face charges since only a simple majority in parliament is required to pass such a motion.

In any case, apart from coalition MPs, Anna Belousovová, the SNS’ former deputy chair who was expelled from the party earlier this year, said she was likely to vote in favour of the motion too.

The opposition Smer party did not comment on the case, “in order not to influence the investigation”, and said it would wait until the General Prosecutor’s Office files a motion to parliament, Smer spokesperson Silvia Glendová said.

Štefanov himself refused to comment on the case, while the SNS, represented by spokesperson Jana Benková, said that Lipšic’s accusations were merely media grandstanding.

The following day, March 10, SNS deputy chairman Andrej Danko announced the party was filing a motion with the General Prosecutor’s office over statements made by Lipšic and his deputy, Interior Ministry State Secretary Maroš Žilinka. The SNS claims the two officials overstepped their competencies when they looked into the prosecution files.

“I maintain that since the minister during the press conference clearly stated the amount of the damages, and the punishment, that the evidence is in a good state, named the persons and the content of the evidence, it is clear that they must have looked into the files,” Danko said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Danko also said that “even if all the members of the SNS were to be charged, it is clear that the SNS is the only party that defends the territorial integrity of Slovakia and will not cut deals with either Most-Híd or the SMK [Hungarian Coalition Party]”, TASR reported. Danko did not elaborate on the relevance of his comments.

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