Third SaS candidate for NBÚ fails

THE FREEDOM and Solidarity (SaS) party’s continued inability to find a suitable candidate for the top post at Slovakia’s security vetting agency – that is, someone with an untainted moral and professional history, and who is acceptable to all SaS’s ruling coalition partners – is, observers says, beginning to prove worrisome.

THE FREEDOM and Solidarity (SaS) party’s continued inability to find a suitable candidate for the top post at Slovakia’s security vetting agency – that is, someone with an untainted moral and professional history, and who is acceptable to all SaS’s ruling coalition partners – is, observers says, beginning to prove worrisome.

Three attempts by SaS to fill the chairmanship at the National Security Office (NBÚ) – left vacant by the departure of František Blanárik, an alleged former agent for the communist-era military intelligence agency – have now fallen flat. The latest SaS nominee, Supreme Court judge Juraj Kliment, withdrew as a candidate after learning that he does not enjoy the support from all parties of the ruling coalition.

The Civic Conservative Party (OKS), a faction of four MPs that was elected to parliament on the Most-Híd party’s slate, raised objections to Kliment’s candidacy. OKS pointed to his involvement in the reconfirmation of a Communist-era verdict to the Cervanová case. OKS stated that Kliment, along with the other judges hearing the case, failed to consider new evidence.

OKS leader Peter Zajac, speaking on public-broadcaster Slovak Radio, posed the question of “whether it is possible to accept into such a significant position a man who de facto had a share in the fact that the Supreme Court of a democratic state decided in line with a communist court which had avoided many elementary facts about the whole case”.

After facing criticism for its failure to remove Blanárik earlier, SaS first proposed Ján Stano as his replacement. However, Stano did not satisfy the other ruling parties because of his previous employment, albeit in a junior position, at the Slovak Information Service (SIS), Slovakia’s main spy agency, during its period under Ivan Lexa. Lexa is the one-time right-hand man of controversial former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar and it was under Lexa’s leadership that the SIS was accused of involvement in numerous criminal activities.

SaS then proposed Supreme Court judge Peter Paluda, and for a brief period it seemed that he enjoyed broad approval. Paluda has a long record as a senior judge, served as Slovakia’s representative to the EU's justice organisation, Eurojust, and has been a staunch critic of Supreme Court head Štefan Harabin. Nevertheless, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) poured cold water on Paluda’s chances by voting to oppose his nomination, citing a legal action he had launched against the state, among other reasons.

Observers have warned that the continued failure to fill the post could prompt more tension and risk further loss of trust among the coalition parties.

Without the four votes of the OKS deputies, the ruling coalition would not have had enough votes to elect Kliment.

“Despite honouring the work of judges, mainly those who fight for an open judiciary, we cannot support Kliment,” Zajac said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “He was a member of the [Supreme Court senate that judged the] case of Cervanová, which is a key case for Slovakia’s judiciary.”

Kliment announced on June 6 that he had withdrawn his candidacy.

“I take it back,” he told TASR, adding that he would also have had a moral problem, because he stands by his legal opinion in the Cervanová case.

SaS chairman Richard Sulík meanwhile said that his party would submit another name and see what the coalition partners say. Given that the benchmark has now been set so high, he warned, SaS will act accordingly when it comes to other parties’ future nominations.

The Cervanová case

Ľudmila Cervanová disappeared from Mlynská Dolina, a university dormitory area in Bratislava, in July 1976 and a body reported to be hers was later found in a brook near Kráľová pri Senci. Seven young men from Nitra – Juraj Lachman, František Čerman, Stanislav Dúbravický, Pavol Beďač, Roman Brázda, Miloš Kocúr and Milan Andrášik – were detained by police in 1981. The prosecution charged that they had kidnapped Cervanová from a Bratislava disco, repeatedly raped her and then murdered her.

All seven suspects were found guilty by the Bratislava Regional Court in 1982 and sentenced to between four and 24 years in prison. Originally the prosecution had requested death sentences for four of the accused despite their repeated claims of innocence. In 1990, after the fall of the communist regime, the Supreme Court of Czechoslovakia overruled the original sentences and returned the case to the lower court while ordering the release of the men who were still in prison.

Critics who have followed this case for many years say that even after the fall of communism the courts ignored newly-revealed testimony as well as a new expert medical report by forensic medicine expert Peter Fiala and again found the men guilty on the basis of their communist-era confessions. The men said they had signed these under severe psychological pressure – they say they were offered a choice between confessing or being sentenced to death by hanging.

The prosecution of the seven men has become one of the most well-known and controversial cases in the history of the Czechoslovak and Slovak judiciary. The case was closed in 2006 when Slovakia’s Supreme Court confirmed the guilty verdicts.

Critics charge that the Slovak lower court ignored all the imperfections in the communist-era investigation and prosecution that had been noted by the Czechoslovak Supreme Court in 1990 and ordered even longer prison terms for three of the defendants, forcing two of them to return to prison to serve additional years. Andrášik was the last of the sentenced men to be released from custody when he left Leopoldov prison on parole on October 14, 2009. His release, however, was not based on any progress in resolving the questions that had been raised about the legitimacy of his original conviction.

Earlier this year in February, Milan Andrášik and Miloš Kocúr underwent polygraph tests in Bratislava, stating that they had nothing to do with the crime and that their previous admissions had been coerced during the original police investigation in 1981.

Robert E. Lee, a US expert on polygraphs, tested Andrášik and Kocúr and then sent the results for review by other examiners in the US who knew nothing about the questions that were administered during the test. These additional examiners confirmed Lee’s conclusions.

“If there was any participation in the murder of Ľudmila, it would have been proved,” Lee told a press conference held on February 18, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

He said the screening technique he used would have detected the two men’s participation in the murder and added that the results could not have been influenced by the long period of time which had passed since Cervanová’s death in 1976.

The results of polygraph tests, however, are not admissible as evidence in Slovak courts.

Michaela Terenzani contributed to this report

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