Court accepts Čentéš' objection to judges

THE CONSTITUTIONAL Court has accepted a challenge lodged by general prosecutor-elect Jozef Čentéš, on grounds of suspected bias, against Justices Peter Brňák and Milan Ľalík. The judges were part of the senate assigned to rule on a complaint, also submitted by Čentéš, related to President Ivan Gašparovič’s failure to appoint him as prosecutor general, the TASR newswire reported on January 24.

THE CONSTITUTIONAL Court has accepted a challenge lodged by general prosecutor-elect Jozef Čentéš, on grounds of suspected bias, against Justices Peter Brňák and Milan Ľalík. The judges were part of the senate assigned to rule on a complaint, also submitted by Čentéš, related to President Ivan Gašparovič’s failure to appoint him as prosecutor general, the TASR newswire reported on January 24.

Čentéš lodged his objection to Brňák and Ľalík on January 9, after the Constitutional Court assigned his original motion to a three-member senate that included the pair, as well as Marianna Mochnáčová as chair. His objection to the judges was assigned to a senate comprising Justices Lajos Mészáros, Sergej Kohut and Juraj Horváth, TASR wrote.

Though at first Čentéš did not specify the names of the judges he was complaining about, the Sme daily reported that the general prosecutor-elect may have objected to Brňák for being a member of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), a political party in which Gašparovič was formerly a leading member, between 1990 and 2002, and Ľalík for serving as head of the civil department at the Justice Ministry at the time the current president of the Supreme Court, Štefan Harabin, was minister. Ľalík’s son recently wrote on the inepravo.blogspot.com website that the decision not to appoint Čentéš “fulfils the limitations of the Constitutional Court’s ruling”, Sme wrote.

The Constitutional Court has now assigned Čentéš' original motion, which was filed on January 3 and which requests that a fresh election to choose another general prosecutor be blocked, to another panel, this one comprising Justices Mochnáčová as chairwoman, Ján Luby and Ladislav Orosz.

Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška prolonged the deadline for submitting new candidates for the job of general prosecutor until Tuesday, January 29. The original deadline was January 18, but no one had proposed a nominee by then.

Although the ruling Smer party has mentioned regional prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár as its possible nominee, Čižnár announced he would not accept any nomination until the Constitutional Court rules on Čentéš’s original complaint.

The saga

The term of the last general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, expired in February 2011, but it took until June of that year for parliament to finally elect Jozef Čentéš as his replacement. However, Gašparovič then refused to appoint Čentéš, despite a Constitutional Court ruling in October 2011 that his election had been entirely constitutional.

At the beginning of January this year, Gašparovič formally announced that he would not appoint Čentéš. He cited doubts stemming from the manner in which Čentéš was elected as well as the fact that he shredded testimony on alleged corruption provided by MP Igor Matovič, now head of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), as the main reasons for his refusal. In 2011 Matovič provided a statement on alleged political corruption to the Office of the General Prosecutor, but the questioning had to be repeated after Čentéš, acting as prosecutor, accidentally shredded it.

Both Čentéš and Matovič have stated that the testimony was destroyed by mistake, TASR reported. Gašparovič’s decision prompted a wave of criticism.

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