ANOTHER verdict has been finalised in one of Slovakia’s most-watched political corruption cases, involving Pavol Bielik, the former mayor of the Rača district of Bratislava and a high-ranking official of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). After Bielik was acquitted of all charges against him in autumn 2010, Slovakia’s Supreme Court has ruled that a co-defendant, Jaroslav Šuščák, was guilty of indirect corruption and sentenced him to one year in prison, conditionally suspended for three years, and a financial penalty of €10,000, the Sme daily reported on August 5.
Slovakia’s Supreme Court rejected the prosecutor’s appeal against the verdict of a lower court and issued a final ruling seven years after the indictment was first brought against both individuals. Earlier both co-defendants had been convicted, then both were acquitted, and the final outcome is that former mayor Bielik stands acquitted due to lack of evidence while Šuščák was found guilty of indirect corruption. Neither individual commented to the media on the most recent verdict.
The bribery case
The case against the two defendants involved many allegations and several mysterious turns of events, such as the loss of the recording of a meeting between Bielik and Šuščák that was bugged by the police. Šuščák was charged as being the mediator in the attempted bribery of the mayor.
Both Bielik and Šuščák were accused of bribery in 2004. A company known as Invest In, owned by Pavol Kollár, wanted to pursue a construction project in Rača that required approval of the local municipal council. Šuščák, also a local businessman, contacted Kollár and told him that approval was not possible without a bribe and the amount was allegedly set at Sk5 million (approximately €165,000).
The case was first heard by Slovakia’s Special Court (the predecessor of Slovakia’s Specialised Criminal Court) in November 2005 and was one of its first trials involving alleged high-level political corruption.
In January 2007, the Special Court sentenced Bielik to five years in prison on corruption charges and banned him from holding public office for seven years. Šuščák was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. The Special Court actually sentenced Bielik twice but both verdicts were overruled by the country’s Supreme Court which returned each conviction to the lower court for retrial.
In March 2010 the Specialised Criminal Court acquitted both defendants, ruling that the prosecution had not proven that the bribe for which the two were originally convicted had actually transpired. Special prosecutor Ján Hrivňák appealed that verdict, saying that it was not a good signal to those who might seek to report a suspected crime to the police.
The main witness in the case, Pavol Kollár, said at that time that he would not turn to the police again.
On September 30, 2010, the Supreme Court acquitted Bielik of the charge of corruption, ruling that there no evidence that unequivocally proved that Bielik had asked for a bribe.
The Supreme Court senate wrote that Bielik had not spoken to any member of the municipal commission that had the authority to decide about a construction license, as was alleged by Šuščák, the chief witness against Bielik. The court concluded that Bielik had not created space to ask for a bribe. The SITA newswire wrote that a verdict of a Supreme Court senate cannot normally be appealed.
Šuščák testified that he had asked the chair of the board of directors of the Invest In company to offer a bribe of Sk5 million in 2004 for securing the support of mayor Bielik to assure that Bielik would get approval of the local council for the construction permit and the town-planning approval to reconstruct one building and build four houses in the Pri vinohradoch neighbourhood.
In its most recent ruling the Specialised Criminal Court in Pezinok found Šuščák guilty of indirect corruption on February 15 and imposed a financial penalty of €10,000, according to Sme. The Supreme Court then confirmed this ruling and added a one-year prison sentence, conditionally suspended for three years.
According to Sme, the prosecutor requested more severe punishment for Šuščák, stating that he had three previous criminal records. The law allows a court to sentence a defendant to up to three years in prison for indirect corruption, Sme added.
10. Aug 2011 at 10:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff