'Lord of Zemplín' found guilty

MIKULÁŠ Vareha, dubbed ‘the Lord of Zemplín’ by the Slovak media, whose 11 firms conducted, among other things, an unlikely trade in bark beetles could spend the next 11 years behind bars after the Specialised Criminal Court found him guilty of VAT and other tax and insurance payment evasions that deprived the state of €58.1 million in revenue. The court also imposed a personal €100,000 fine on Vareha. He immediately appealed the verdict, claiming that he was no fraudster, the Sme daily reported on April 18.

Mikuláš VarehaMikuláš Vareha (Source: SME)

MIKULÁŠ Vareha, dubbed ‘the Lord of Zemplín’ by the Slovak media, whose 11 firms conducted, among other things, an unlikely trade in bark beetles could spend the next 11 years behind bars after the Specialised Criminal Court found him guilty of VAT and other tax and insurance payment evasions that deprived the state of €58.1 million in revenue. The court also imposed a personal €100,000 fine on Vareha. He immediately appealed the verdict, claiming that he was no fraudster, the Sme daily reported on April 18.

Vareha, 51, committed the tax evasion between 2008 and 2011, mainly in Trebišov district in eastern Slovakia, where he claimed to have traded 55.306 million tree grafts and 414.2 million bark beetles, according to the Office of the Special Prosecutor. Back in November 2012 Vareha claimed the bark beetles, which are normally regarded as a serious tree parasite, were used as food for pheasants, the TASR newswire reported.

“If you take a calculator, you will find that he created a tax haven for firms in Zemplín,” said the chairman of the senate of the Banská Bystrica branch of the Specialised Criminal Court, as quoted by Sme, adding that Vareha deliberately burdened his firms with heavy tax bills. “There could be serious doubt cast on the employees of tax offices if they overlooked the unbelievable volume of VAT.”

Vareha, who heard the verdict in the absence of a defence lawyer, said the whole process was staged and that he did not owe the state a single dime.

“You are pouring dirt on me and turning me into a thief,” Vareha said, as quoted by Sme.
Just three days before the verdict was delivered, Vareha fired his two defence lawyers and took on a new lawyer, Ľuboš Petrovský.

At the same time he submitted an objection on grounds of bias against the senate judging him, and demanded that the case be withdrawn from it, the SITA newswire reported on April 15. After Vareha’s announcement, his then lawyer Ľubomír Hrežďovič ignored a warning from the judge and left the court claiming that he could not represent Vareha against his will.

Hrežďovič later returned to the courtroom but remained tight-lipped for the rest of the process.

Vareha was arrested by police on March 1, 2011. At the time, he had been in business for 12 years and acted as the authorised representative of more than 70 firms trading in a wide variety of goods and commodities including bark beetles, cowshed compost and wooden gates. Between 2007 and 2010, the state refunded VAT of €32,729,204 to the businessman, state officials said at the time of his arrest.

The interior minister at the time of his arrest, Daniel Lipšic, stated that Vareha apparently thought his political connections would allow him to cover up millions of euros in tax fraud.

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