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Trnka broke rules, but is not censured

“I WILL think about that,” was the response of deputy general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka to media inquiries about his possible resignation after he became embroiled in a controversial real estate transfer. His equivocation came despite the verdict of his boss, Ladislav Tichý, who currently heads the Office of the General Prosecutor in the absence of an officially appointed top prosecutor, that Trnka had acted unlawfully by issuing a legal opinion that materially affected the disputed ownership of Glance House, a luxury residential development in Bernolákovo, a municipality near Bratislava. However, it seems unlikely that Trnka, who was the general prosecutor until February last year, will lose his current job as a deputy to Tichý.

“I WILL think about that,” was the response of deputy general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka to media inquiries about his possible resignation after he became embroiled in a controversial real estate transfer. His equivocation came despite the verdict of his boss, Ladislav Tichý, who currently heads the Office of the General Prosecutor in the absence of an officially appointed top prosecutor, that Trnka had acted unlawfully by issuing a legal opinion that materially affected the disputed ownership of Glance House, a luxury residential development in Bernolákovo, a municipality near Bratislava. However, it seems unlikely that Trnka, who was the general prosecutor until February last year, will lose his current job as a deputy to Tichý.

Tichý confirmed that Trnka had broken the rules but has also argued that not every breach of the law is a crime, according to the Sme daily, which broke the story about the controversial transfer.
“It was his legal opinion and I have a different one,” Tichý said on November 26, as quoted by the SITA newswire, after he had reversed Trnka’s consent to the transfer.

While Tichý argued that Trnka had not caused any damage by his actions, the opposition is now calling for Trnka to go.

The case involves the construction and sale of Glance House which, thanks to a letter sent by Trnka to one of the conflicting sides, was reportedly transferred to Jana Šlachtová, a representative of CDI, a London-based company which has links to Marián Kočner, a controversial businessman also known to be on friendly terms with Trnka, according to Sme. The Senec cadastral office allowed the transfer based on Trnka’s letter even though the Special Prosecutor’s Office had banned any property transfers connected with the building. Subsequently, the real estate was transferred to another firm, Gapeja.

As well as Tichý cancelling Trnka’s consent, the General Prosecutor’s Office filed a motion against the transfer of the property to Gapeja, with the cadastral office having to decide on the matter within 30 days. Tichý also limited Trnka’s power concerning the Special Prosecutor’s Office, according to SITA.

Nevertheless, Tichý argued that he would not sack Trnka because in the past he had cancelled similar decisions by other prosecutors, and intended to apply the same criteria for his deputy. He also said that he saw no reason to subject Trnka to a disciplinary proceeding, SITA reported.

“According to our opinion [i.e. that of the General Prosecutor’s Office], it was the cadastral office in Senec that made a mistake,” said Tichý, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

By the time The Slovak Spectator went to print on November 29, the police had not decided whether to launch a criminal prosecution regarding an abuse of power by a public official. National police chief Tibor Gašpar confirmed that currently the matter is in the hands of the investigator of the Office for the Fight Against Corruption in Bratislava. On November 28, Gašpar told SITA that the police regard Trnka as a person who can provide further details on the case and not as a suspect.
The police are already investigating the head of the Senec cadastral office, Igor Svitek, according to Sme.

Later questioned by the parliamentary committee for defence and security, which oversees the prosecution service, Trnka said that by sending the letter he had tried to act to the benefit of the injured party, and that he had to deal with the case because of his position, TASR reported.

“I do not feel guilty, nor am I guilty,” Trnka said, as quoted by TASR, and in return pondered who decides on guilt in Slovakia, offering the answer that “I feel that it’s the media, certain newspapers and some MPs that are able to formulate statements that sometimes appear premature to me”.

Independent MP Daniel Lipšic said that what Trnka describes only as an ‘informative letter’ bore the official stamp of the Prosecutor-General’s Office, which made the letter an official document.
Lipšic said he believed that Trnka should not remain in his post, as any other prosecutor would have been arrested for a similar transgression, TASR reported.

“We assume that Ladislav Tichý terrified not only us by his statements,” wrote Richard Sulík, leader of opposition party Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), who suggested that Tichý should not underplay the issue by suggesting that it was a matter merely of two differing legal opinions, Sme wrote.

The dispute

Behind the case is the criminal prosecution of a couple identified by the local media as RČ and AČ, which was launched on June 9, 2010. A prosecutor from the Special Prosecutor’s Office, part of the Office of the General Prosecutor that deals with corruption cases, on June 17, 2010, blocked all sales and transfers of property belonging to Glance House corporation, including the eponymous residential building, pending a claim by CDI. Then on June 20, 2010, the prosecutor charged the couple with fraud for what she called the use of illegitimate authorisation in order to change the co-owners and authorised representatives of the firm Glance House. CDI claims that it suffered losses of €28 million as a result of the defendants’ actions. Trnka’s letter agreed that the property should be transferred to the damaged party, according to SITA.

Kočner steps in

Meanwhile, Kočner, the businessman with links to CDI, organised a meeting for people who had paid for apartments in Glance House but have so far received nothing at which he defended Trnka’s actions, Sme reported on November 28, adding that about 40 people attended. Kočner offered the clients “consultancy” free of charge. He argued that Trnka had taken their side but he did not explain how he intended to help them, saying only: “It is possible and I can guarantee it to you,” Sme reported.

In late February video recordings, as part of what was dubbed the Sasanka file, emerged revealing that Sulík, then speaker of parliament, had regularly informed Kočner, who held no government or party position but has featured in several political controversies over the previous two decades, about the tortuous political process in parliament in late 2010 to choose Slovakia’s general prosecutor – a process in which Trnka, as a candidate, was a central participant. It emerged that Sulík had also asked Kočner to screen some of SaS’ potential parliamentary candidates prior to the 2010 general election.

Kočner is a former classmate of Pavol Rusko, the former head of TV Markíza and a one-time economy minister. In 1998 Kočner led what was dubbed a siege of the TV Markíza building that led to wholesale changes in the management of the station, the Sme daily reported.

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