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UPDATED: President appoints Čižnár as chief prosecutor

PRESIDENT Ivan Gašparovič formally appointed Jaromír Čižnár, a former law-school classmate of Prime Minister Robert Fico, as Slovakia’s general prosecutor on July 17, filling a position that had been vacant for almost two and a half years.

Jaromír Čižnár(Source: TASR)

PRESIDENT Ivan Gašparovič formally appointed Jaromír Čižnár, a former law-school classmate of Prime Minister Robert Fico, as Slovakia’s general prosecutor on July 17, filling a position that had been vacant for almost two and a half years.

The move came just a month after Čižnár was chosen by MPs in a parliamentary vote orchestrated by the ruling party, Smer. While Gašparovič said he saw no reason not to appoint Čižnár, the opposition parties said the president should have waited until the Constitutional Court decided on a complaint lodged by Jozef Čentéš, who was elected to the general prosecutor post by MPs in June 2011. The president has refused to appoint him, and presented what the opposition has derided as insubstantial reasons for his refusal.

By contrast, the tone of Prime Minister and Smer leader Robert Fico was triumphant. Finally, after a long period during which society had been traumatised by this issue, Slovakia has a constitutionally elected and appointed general prosecutor, he said on July 17.

The media learned about the appointment, and subsequent ceremony, just minutes before it took place, with the president offering no explanation as to why he chose not to inform reporters about an event which is normally well flagged in advance.

“I considered all the aspects; the legal ones and others too, which could object to your appointment,” Gašparovič told Čižnár during the official ceremony, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “I have concluded that there is no such reason, thus I decided.”

Gašparovič called on Čižnár to use his position to put Slovak criminal prosecutions on a firmer footing. Along with personnel and organisational changes, Čižnár said he intends to intensify the activities of prosecutions that help protect children and women from any kind of hostility or abuse. Čižnár added that he wants prosecutors to intensively pursue tax evasion cases.

“It is unacceptable for the state to lose hundreds of millions of euros now, while those who should pay taxes remain unpunished,” Čižnár told the press, adding that he wants to speed up prosecution proceedings so that these do not take several years, as they have done in the past.

After a political and judicial tug-of-war lasting more than two years over one of the most powerful posts in the country, Čižnár was elected by ruling Smer party MPs on June 18. No opposition parties took part in the secret-ballot vote, arguing that the country already has a general prosecutor-elect: Čentéš.

A complaint lodged by Čentéš against the president’s refusal to appoint him is pending before the Constitutional Court, with Čižnár saying that he will step down to make way for Čentéš only if the court rules that he himself violated Čentéš’ civil rights by seeking election.

Čentéš responded to the July 17 appointment by saying he was aware of events, but that he remained working at the general prosecutor’s office awaiting the Constitutional Court’s verdict, TASR reported.

The prosecutors’ choice?

Prime Minister Fico stated, as quoted by the SITA newswire, that Čižnár was picked “as a professional by the prosecutors themselves”.

Back in January, the Council of Prosecutors, which represents the interest of prosecutors under the General Prosecutor’s Office, recommended Čižnár for the post. He responded that he would not confirm his candidacy until he learned whether the Constitutional Court intended to issue an injunction based on Čentéš’ complaint. The council, which has since been re-elected, was not asked for a fresh opinion on Čižnár’s candidacy prior to his June 18 election, according to SITA.

On June 11 the council called for a timely resolution of the unfavourable situation in which Slovakia remained without a general prosecutor.

Special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik said he considered Čižnár to be the most suitable candidate for the post of general prosecutor.

“I think that the Office of the General Prosecutor – after two years during which it has not had its top post filled and has become the target of various attacks, be they power or political fights – deserves a general prosecutor who will restore its credibility,” Kováčik said, as quoted by SITA.

Kováčik described Čižnár as a capable person who is also a “career prosecutor who over the decades, [based on] his uncompromising nature, sense for justice and professional qualities, has gained the respect of his colleagues”.

Who is Čižnár?

Čižnár, born in Handlová in 1964, has been working for the prosecution service for 24 years. He graduated from the Law School of the Comenius University in 1986 and started working for the district prosecutor’s office in Bratislava. Čižnár was appointed as a prosecutor in 1989 by then general prosecutor Pavol Kis. Čižnár has declared that he has not been a member of any political party and that in 1988 he refused to join the Communist Party. As of February 1991, he was moved to the Bratislava city prosecutor’s office, but after a month returned to the district prosecutor’s office. Since 2004, Čižnár has been the regional prosecutor for Bratislava, according to SITA.

Responses to the appointment

On June 20, two days after Smer voted to select Čižnár, 60 of the 67 opposition MPs in parliament called on Gašparovič to refrain from appointing him until the Constitutional Court decided on Čentéš’ complaint. The deputies argued that appointing Čižnár might have a long-term negative impact on the stability of Slovakia’s legal system.

“By appointing Jaromír Čižnár to the post of general prosecutor, President Gašparovič completed a scenario whereby Robert Fico controls the general prosecutor’s office,” said former Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) on July 17. “He has done so despite the fact that the Constitutional Court last week passed a measure by which it has unblocked the court and set a senate to decide on the complaint by Čentéš.”

Any permanent problems related to the legally shaky status of the new general prosecutor are the responsibility of the president and the prime minister, Žitňanská said.

Political scientist Ján Baránek said the president’s one month delay in making the appointment might have been because he requested legal opinions to clarify the whole situation, SITA reported. However, Baránek believes Gašparovič “played theatre for the public and showed that he would not hurry,” a course of action he deemed “childish”.

Political scientist Miroslav Kusý shared Baránek’s opinion, saying “it has been clear from the very beginning that the president would appoint Čižnár” adding that he delayed the appointment only to give the impression that “he gave a little thought to it”, as quoted by SITA.

“The appointment of Jaromír Čižnár is good news for Robert Fico but bad news for justice in Slovakia,” said former interior minister and NOVA party leader Daniel Lipšic, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin said that the president “proceeded in harmony and strictly in line with the constitution”, adding that even if Čentéš succeeds at the Constitutional Court there will be no problem: “Mr. Čižnár will be a good prosecutor”.

However, a lawyer cooperating with the legal NGO Via Iuris, Peter Wilfling, said that the fact Čižnár was appointed before the Constitutional Court had ruled on Čentéš’ complaint makes the appointment of the new chief prosecutor problematic, according to Sme.

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