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Judges clash over verdict

THE CONTROVERSIAL promissory notes signed by Ján Ducký, the former general director of the Slovak gas utility SPP back in the late 1990s, continue to haunt Slovakia. Most recently a court case involving these notes led to a clash between judges of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin, who said he would initiate a disciplinary proceeding or even file a criminal complaint against the senate that produced the verdict in the case. The judges lashed back, saying that the Supreme Court president might have committed a crime by claiming that their verdict ‘smells of corruption’.

Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin(Source: SME)

THE CONTROVERSIAL promissory notes signed by Ján Ducký, the former general director of the Slovak gas utility SPP back in the late 1990s, continue to haunt Slovakia. Most recently a court case involving these notes led to a clash between judges of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin, who said he would initiate a disciplinary proceeding or even file a criminal complaint against the senate that produced the verdict in the case. The judges lashed back, saying that the Supreme Court president might have committed a crime by claiming that their verdict ‘smells of corruption’.

“After almost 15 years of fighting of the state with fraudsters, the senate of the Constitutional Court gave them a chance once again in a mysteriously purposive manner,” said Harabin, in response to the ruling, according to an official court release.

The Senate of the Constitutional Court sided on August 13 with the complaint of the Swiss trade company Gen Man Ventures AG, which through general courts has been seeking payments for the so-called Ducký’s promissory notes worth over €38 million. The senate ruled that the Supreme Court, with its proceeding, violated the plaintiff’s right to have a lawful judge decide the case. The chairman of the Constitutional Court senate, in its brief reasoning, said that the violation occurred when Harabin arbitrarily changed the working schedule of the Supreme Court and replaced a judge in the senate who was to decide on an appeal filed by the general prosecutor in the case of Ducký’s promissory notes. The Constitutional Court also ordered the Supreme Court to cover the plaintiff’s trial expenses, the SITA newswire reported.

According to the Constitutional Court, the chairman of the Supreme Court did not list reasons for replacing a member of the senate, neither while making the change nor in his response to the complaint requested by the Constitutional Court. The chairman said that there were no legal reasons for replacing the judge, arguing that it is not possible to change judges already assigned to a senate without legal reasons, and that this change had an impact on the ruling, SITA reported.

Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court did not decide on the merit of the case as to whether or not the Ducký notes are valid.

Ducký, who served as economy minister in two governments under Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar between 1992 and 1998, allegedly signed at least 24 controversial promissory notes back in the 90s, some of whose holders later tried to use them to demand billions of Slovak crowns from the state. Ducký himself was murdered on January 11, 1999. The circumstances surrounding his death have never been explained. One such note worth one billion Czech crowns is owned by the company Gen Man Ventures.

Harabin now says that the Supreme Court would not only initiate a disciplinary proceeding but also file a criminal complaint.

“Some judges of the Constitutional Court have taken the side of suspicious mafia figures and fraudsters,” Harabin said, according to his own blog. “Their decisions are not only legally indefensible but smell of corruption and an obviously purposive approach.”

Moreover, nine judges of the Supreme Court rejected Harabin’s words in an open letter, the Sme daily reported.

“As the head of the Supreme Court should know the law and should be aware that a judge cannot be prosecuted for his decision, we perceive his statements as an attempt to expand fear in the judicial system, an attack on its independence and downplay grave flaws of the chairman of the Supreme Court,” the justices write, adding that Harabin has long been dishonouring not only the Supreme Court but the whole judicial system with his statements.

So far, the letter of protest has been signed by Supreme Court justices Elena Berthotyová, Igor Belko, Jana Henčeková, Miroslav Gavalec, Zuzana Ďurišová, Milan Karabin, Peter Paluda, Rudolf Čirč and Juraj Kliment. They also defended the Constitutional Court in this case, deeming its verdict as final.

Harabin has in return rejected the criticism of Supreme Court judges, saying that they did not submit any professional or constitutional-legal arguments. The Supreme Court president argues that all measures made to the work schedule of the Supreme Court under his management were transparently discussed in the Judicial Council, a top judicial body, and published on the internet.

Also, members of the fourth senate of the Constitutional Court in their August 15 statement sharply rejected Harabin’s statements to their address: “statements by the chairman of the Supreme Court that our decision from August 13, 2013 ‘smells of corruption and obvious purposiveness, which is a crime in this country’ are unfounded and are clearly purposive. We consider it a rough attack on our honour and dignity and we are of the opinion that these are statements that signal that the chairman of the Supreme Court committed a crime by these words”.

The judges argue that Harabin attacked them even before he could have read the reasoning of the verdict, according to SITA.

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