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Warning sounded for judiciary

A CONTROVERSIAL decision ending a 15-year old lawsuit involving former Slovak president Michal Kováč, the release of a suspect charged with murder who had been on the lam for several years, and a get-together involving judges and the acting general prosecutor where a retired lawyer mimicked the actions of the mass murderer in Devínska Nová Ves have again raised the silhouette of what many call the murky state of Slovakia’s judiciary.

A CONTROVERSIAL decision ending a 15-year old lawsuit involving former Slovak president Michal Kováč, the release of a suspect charged with murder who had been on the lam for several years, and a get-together involving judges and the acting general prosecutor where a retired lawyer mimicked the actions of the mass murderer in Devínska Nová Ves have again raised the silhouette of what many call the murky state of Slovakia’s judiciary.

“[While] respecting the independence of judicial power as one of the cornerstones of democracy, the members of the Slovak cabinet express deep concerns over the state of the Slovak judiciary,” the cabinet wrote in a statement released on June 15.

The cabinet’s statement focuses on two recent cases: the release from custody of Karol Mello, who is charged with having ordered an assassination that ended in a double murder; and a court decision ordering former Slovak president Michal Kováč to apologise to Ivan Lexa, the former head of Slovakia’s secret service who had been accused of abducting Kováč’s son. The cabinet termed both court decisions as “slaps to justice”.

The cabinet also stated that recent court decisions show that judges who had made these decisions are not independent from outside pressures. The cabinet statement concluded that it respects the independence of the judiciary but added that “still there are situations when it is not possible to keep silent, in the interest of decent judges and, first of all, in the interest of citizens”.



Kováč vs Lexa



The Kováč ruling provoked much public outcry after a district court in Bratislava ordered former Slovak president Michal Kováč to apologise to Lexa, the former head of the Slovak secret service (SIS), as well as to pay compensation of €3,319 to him because of statements Kováč had made about the abduction of his son, Michal Kováč Jr.

Kováč told the Sme daily that he would appeal the verdict to a higher court even though he did not expect the verdict would be overturned.

“One may give this a faint smile, but it also characterises the situation in our judiciary, with decisions made differently from what common sense would expect,” Kováč said, as quoted by Sme.

That case dates back 15 years and concerns the abduction of the president’s son to Austria in 1995. The SIS, under Lexa’s control, was suspected of organising the abduction but that was never fully investigated because former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar granted a blanket amnesty regarding the abduction when he briefly served as acting president in March 1998, after Kováč’s term had ended. A proposal to terminate the so-called Mečiar amnesties is currently before parliament, tabled by MPs from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). It must garner the support of 90 MPs to be passed.



Mello goes free



The Bratislava Regional Court released Karol Mello, an alleged underworld boss accused of two murders, from pre-trial custody on May 19 after it concluded that the court of first instance had not fulfilled the legal requirements set by the Penal Code to continue to deprive him of his personal freedom. Mello is accused of a 2004 double murder in the village of Most pri Bratislave. After being a fugitive for several years, Polish police arrested him near the city of Krakow in October 2010 where he had been living under a false identity. Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská has filed an extraordinary appeal against the ruling of the Bratislava Regional Court involving Mello, asking that the Supreme Court overturn the court’s ruling, the SITA newswire reported.



The judges’ party



A video released on Slovak media in mid June added a few more black marks to the image of the Slovak judiciary. The video recorded a get-together of seven judges including four from the Supreme Court, a retired lawyer, the acting general prosecutor and a law professor in a bar in Rajecké Teplice in autumn 2010. The judges, the professor and acting general prosecutor Ladislav Tichý are seen making fun of the August 2010 massacre in Devínska Nová Ves while the retired lawyer, wearing blue ear defenders and holding an imitation assault rifle, entertains the guests by mimicking the murderer, who killed seven people during a shooting spree.

The Sme daily wrote that in addition to Tichý, Supreme Court judge Štefan Michalík was among the participants, suggesting that they are on friendly terms. Michalík is under investigation for suspected corruption and it is the prosecutor’s office, under Tichý, which will decide whether to proceed with the case against Michalík. The prosecutor's office later announced that Tichý would be taken off the Michalík case.


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