THE FINANCE Ministry has attempted for the fifth time in less than a year to conduct an audit of the finances of the Supreme Court. Even though the Constitutional Court imposed a large fine on Štefan Harabin, the court’s president, for refusing to allow the previous audit attempts, the fifth visit did not go any smoother.
On July 15 auditors from the Finance Ministry were received by the administrative director of the Supreme Court, Jozef Kaffka, with the intention to start their review of the court’s accounts, but Kaffka refused to allow the auditors to begin, stating that to do so would be a violation of law.
“Due to the existing legal obstacle, represented by the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic from April 28, 2011, which confirmed the ruling of the Bratislava Regional Court from January 18, 2011, it is not possible to carry out the audit,” the Supreme Court wrote in a press release.
In April 2011 the Supreme Court found in its own favour, ruling that the Finance Ministry was not authorised to audit it.
Finance Ministry auditors made their first attempt to review the court’s accounts on July 29, 2010 but Harabin refused to allow them to do so. Though he stated at that time that the court had nothing to hide, he has refused to permit each subsequent attempt by auditors to begin their work.
Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš said last year that Harabin may be abusing the independence granted to courts and judges by blocking the audit.
“If any other public official or minister acted like this, I would have submitted a proposal for his or her dismissal long ago,” Mikloš said after the first attempt, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “Štefan Harabin is using the fact that judges cannot be dismissed in this way.”
Harabin has repeatedly asserted that “only the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) wields the right to supervise the Supreme Court”, alleging that an audit by the Finance Ministry would be politicised.
Since then both the Justice Ministry and the Finance Ministry have been tussling with Harabin and the Supreme Court over the barred audits.
The Finance Ministry imposed a €33,000 fine on the court, along with a €1,000 personal fine against Harabin, for hindering the auditors’ work. Harabin and Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš also filed lawsuits against each other’s institutions.
Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská then took action against Harabin by filing a proposal with the Constitutional Court in November 2010 to launch a disciplinary proceeding against Harabin. She proposed the highest possible penalty against Harabin: a one-year, 70-percent reduction in salary.
In response, the Supreme Court filed a criminal complaint against Žitňanská for what it called suspicion of committing the crimes of abuse of power, intervening in the independence of the courts, libel and unauthorised use of personal data.
In late June this year the Constitutional Court ruled on the Justice Ministry’s disciplinary complaint and ordered a 70-percent reduction in Harabin’s salary for one year.
The Constitutional Court’s opinion stated that Harabin had violated his duties associated with management of the court, its financial control and internal audit by repeatedly making it impossible for the Finance Ministry to conduct an audit. The Constitutional Court’s ruling cannot be appealed. Harabin responded to the Constitutional Court’s ruling by stating that he perceived it to be politically-motivated, arguing that it was punishment for his legal opinions.
Other state institutions have voiced various opinions on the ongoing conflict. The General Prosecutor’s Office has stated that Harabin did not commit a crime by refusing to permit the Finance Minister’s auditors to examine the court’s accounts, while also dismissing a criminal motion filed by the Supreme Court against Mikloš.
Slovakia’s ombudsman, Pavel Kandráč, has stated that Finance Ministry audits of expenditures at the Supreme Court had been a normal procedure in the past, conducted without any objection by the court. At the time The Slovak Spectator went to print it was not known what further steps the Finance Ministry might take in order to begin its audit of the Supreme Court.
“At this moment the Finance Ministry together with the Justice Ministry are considering what further steps to take,” Patrícia Malecová Šepitková from the Finance Ministry’s communications department told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the Finance Ministry still intends to audit the Supreme Court.
25. Jul 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani