EVEN after unlocking the doors for criminals to then flee the country and hide in remote parts of the world while enjoying the material benefits generated through dubious businesses or after washing hands of corrupt politicians crystal clean, Slovakia’s judiciary still has the power to shock.
Recently, Slovakia’s courts have produced verdicts which only served to water the seeds of doubt planted deep in the heads of many Slovaks, who can’t shake the feeling that some judges are serving something other than the public interest.
The Prešov Regional Court granted Kosovar Albanian Baki Sadiki, suspected of smuggling heroin from Turkey to Slovakia hidden in imported beach sandals, a retrial of his case after cancelling the original verdict, which sentenced the suspected drug lord in absentia to 22 years in prison. The court’s spokesman said this happened on the grounds that Slovakia agreed to Kosovo’s conditions for the extradition of Sadiki, who had been hiding before being caught through Interpol. Yet, Slovakia’s Justice Ministry said it has never agreed to such conditions, but only informed the Kosovars that “under applicable Slovak Law the person has the right to request a retrial”.
The media speculated that differing interpretations could have been caused by incorrect translation to Slovak. But given the condition of Slovakia’s judiciary it is not that surprising that Sadiki, who for many journalists became a symbol of unexplained links between dubious figures and top judges, is getting lost in translation.
Sadiki might be joining the club of those who benefit from procedural mistakes, court procrastination or simply judicial negligence. That club is currently chaired by Slovakia’s most wanted fugitive, Karol Mello, who has spent several years evading arrest since being accused of ordering a botched gangland hit which left a woman and young boy dead in Most pri Bratislave in 2004. Mello was arrested at the end of 2010 in Krakow, Poland. Then he was released from custody in May 2011 based on a court error. He was immediately re-arrested by a special police unit and charged with a different crime. The Bratislava Regional Court then released him for a second time in a month and Mello has since been living at large in Belize while taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In other cases, the courts act with heed and without delay, just as the Malacky District Court did when it issued a preliminary injunction banning private television broadcaster Markíza from informing about the financing of the Malacky hospital by the Bratislava Self-Governing Region. The court sided with the firm Nemocničná, which owns the hospital and has sued Markíza, the Sme daily reported on September 12.
Based on the court’s decision the television station must refrain from producing or broadcasting any reports linked to reports called “The county is giving millions to a private firm” and “[The head of the regional government Pavol] Frešo was running from our camera,” both of which have already been produced by a reporter, Sme reported.
Meanwhile on September 12, Frešo himself told the media that he disagrees with the decision of the court and considers it an “unacceptable intervention into freedom of speech”, as reported by the SITA newswire.
While it seems that some courts are more than reluctant to limit the “freedom” of suspected criminals to flee the country, still others are more than eager to limit the freedom of speech of journalists. And while there is no direct connection between these cases, they both serve to nicely complete the overall image of the country’s judiciary.
The list of rulings that are a direct slap in the face to any definition of justice is lengthy in Slovakia. One might recall the one produced by the district court in Bratislava which ruled that former President Michal Kováč must apologise to one-time spy boss Ivan Lexa and pay him €3,319 in compensation for statements in which he linked Lexa to the abduction of his son, Michal Kováč Jr, when he as president was under intense pressure from then-prime minister Vladimír Mečiar. The abduction and the developments around it made for the most traumatising case of the mid-1990s, evoking serious concerns within the international community about the state of democracy in Slovakia. This verdict mocks Kováč, who has been waiting for resolution for 15 years, while Lexa has been cleared of all charges.
All this said, there are many who are grateful and indeed benefit from endless court trials, while employing lawyers to fish for procedural errors and keep the judges busy deciding on appeals against such errors, instead of deciding cases on their merits. It is too bad that the system does a better job of catering to them than it does looking out for the average citizen.