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Harabin critic tapped for NBÚ top job

A STERN critic of Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin, Peter Paluda, has been chosen by the ruling coalition party Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) as its nominee for the top post at Slovakia’s vetting authority, the National Security Office (NBÚ). Paluda, a Supreme Court judge and Slovakia’s former representative to the European Union’s judicial watchdog Eurojust, seems likely to win approval from other ruling coalition parties, with Prime Minister Iveta Radičová already backing his nomination.

A STERN critic of Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin, Peter Paluda, has been chosen by the ruling coalition party Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) as its nominee for the top post at Slovakia’s vetting authority, the National Security Office (NBÚ). Paluda, a Supreme Court judge and Slovakia’s former representative to the European Union’s judicial watchdog Eurojust, seems likely to win approval from other ruling coalition parties, with Prime Minister Iveta Radičová already backing his nomination.

Filling the top job at the NBÚ has proved rather a tricky undertaking for the ruling coalition. After facing criticism for its failure to remove František Blanárik, an alleged former agent for the communist-era military intelligence agency, earlier this year, SaS proposed Ján Stano. But Stano did not appeal to the other ruling parties because of his previous involvement with the Slovak Information Service (SIS), now the country's main spy agency, during its period under Ivan Lexa, one-time right-hand man of controversial former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar.

It was during the Lexa period that the SIS was accused of involvement in numerous criminal activities.

“We’re convinced that we’re submitting a candidate to our coalition partners who is an honest person with good reputation and is a respectable expert at the same time,” said SaS leader Richard Sulík, as quoted by the TASR newswire, when introducing Paluda on May 3. “He’s a guarantee that security clearances will always be granted in line with the law.”

Paluda, who has a law degree from Bratislava’s Comenius University, served as prosecutor at the district and later regional prosecution offices in Banská Bystrica. In 1994, he was appointed a Supreme Court judge and in 2004 he became Slovakia’s representative in Eurojust, only to be recalled in a power struggle in 2007.

Radičová’s spokesman Rado Baťo confirmed to the Sme daily on May 3 that the prime minister considers Paluda a good nominee for the post. So does the leader of Most-Híd, Béla Bugár, although Sme reported that he had some reservations about the way Sulík announced the nomination via the media before informing his coalition partners.

Paluda is a long-time opponent of Harabin, another ally of Mečiar who was elected to lead the Supreme Court under the previous government. In 2007, Harabin recalled Paluda from Eurojust. When Paluda filed a criminal complaint against Harabin for abuse of power, Harabin responded by instituting disciplinary proceedings against him. Those proceedings last year attracted representatives from the embassies of the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark to the courtroom, amid domestic and international concern about the state of the Slovak judicial system and the alleged intimidation of judges, including Paluda, who opposed Harabin.

Paluda is also one of four Slovak judges who lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg challenging the election of Harabin to the Supreme Court presidency.



Paluda, in a brief interview with Sme, suggested that he might launch a legislative initiative to ensure that people who deliberately collaborated with the ŠtB communist-era secret police are automatically made ineligible to receive security clearance. He also said that he might re-evaluate security clearances given to people who demonstrably cooperated with the ŠtB.



Troubled backgrounds



František Blanárik, who was nominated by Mečiar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) when it was part of the last government, was, according to documents found in communist-era Czechoslovak security archives in Prague, an informer for the communist-era military intelligence service. He denied being an informer but resigned from his job on March 7. His departure came on the heels of a series of articles published by the Sme daily highlighting the fact that the ruling centre-right parties, when in opposition, had been highly critical of Blanárik’s continued presence at the NBÚ following the original revelations about his past in late 2008, but had not moved to replace him since taking office.

The right to nominate someone to the NBÚ post lies with the SaS party, which during its 2010 parliamentary election campaign presented itself as having zero tolerance for former communist agents.

Blanárik himself was given a full security check by the NBÚ in 2006 and was cleared to access the highest-level information, labelled top secret.

According to communist-era documents disclosed in 2008, Blanárik worked as an informer for the VKR, the communist predecessor to today’s Military Defence Intelligence (VOS) or Military Security Agency, between 1981 and 1989, and reported on at least 10 people, Sme reported.

Based on legislation currently in force, his activities during communism would have disqualified Blanárik from being installed in such a sensitive position had the information been discovered prior to his appointment.

According to Sme, while in office Blanárik also approved several security clearances for former ŠtB agents, including Svatopluk Ratuský, who served as secretary of the National Security Council under the Fico government. During the communist regime Ratuský served as a military border guard whose job it was to stop people trying to escape to Western countries. Under the government of Vladimír Mečiar, Ratuský allegedly participated in the 1995 abduction of the son of then-president Michal Kováč.

After SaS nominated Stano, the party defended the nomination by saying that Stano was employed only as a clerk in a low-profile department. Stano confirmed that he was a staff member of SIS’s central analytical section, which he said at that time was involved in protecting the country from the activities of foreign intelligence services.


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