Jail time for Košice councillor

KOŠICE city councillor František Olejník, a former deputy of Smer convicted of taking a bribe for influencing voting, will now officially spend the next few years in prison after his last hope of a reprieve evaporated on April 7.

KOŠICE city councillor František Olejník, a former deputy of Smer convicted of taking a bribe for influencing voting, will now officially spend the next few years in prison after his last hope of a reprieve evaporated on April 7.

The Supreme Court has dismissed a special appeal submitted by Justice Minister Tomáš Borec, who back in December claimed that the courts decided Olejník’s fate without relevant evidence. That intervention, widely seen as politically motivated, sparked massive criticism by opposition parties. While the Smer party’s majority in parliament meant Borec would survive an eventual no-confidence vote, the Supreme Court ruling has renewed calls for the minister to resign.

The Specialised Criminal Court in Pezinok sentenced Olejník in July 2012 to five years in prison and a fine of €3,000 for corruption. The verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in April 2013. Borec stepped into the case in December 2013 by filing a special appeal, which was just rejected.

The Specialised Criminal Court and the Supreme Court dealt with the merits of the case “very carefully and in detail”, and found that “the factual findings have their logic, are based on evidence” and therefore it cannot be said that the facts were incorrectly identified, especially when the appeal does not mention specifically where the merits of the case were incorrectly determined, said Milan Lipovský, chair of the appellate senate, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

The decision of the court means, according to a prosecutor of the Special Prosecution, that “even Slovakia is able to sentence people with considerable influence” regardless of how many titles and contacts they have, TASR reported.

“Mr Olejník respects the decision of the Supreme Court and is ready to serve his prison sentence,” Olejník’s lawyer Marek Kundrát said in a short statement for the Sme daily on April 8.

Olejník, who has denied wrongdoing, will be able to request a conditional release from prison after he serves at least half of his prison sentence, according to Sme.

The story of the bribe

The case dates back to 2007, when the Košice businessman Jozef Maskaľ showed interest in buying lucrative municipal-owned property in the city centre. At the time, Olejník served as a member of the Košice city council and he allegedly accepted a bribe of Sk340,000 (over €11,000) from Maskaľ to ensure that the deputies from his caucus voted in favour of the sale, the Trend weekly, which originally broke the story, wrote. The city sold the building to Maskaľ in March 2008 for more than €178,000, while according to the courts that later dealt with the case, the market price for the land was at least twice as high.

The courts issued their verdicts based on police wiretapping Olejník’s phone calls for several months, concluding that the only logical way to explain the phone calls is that Maskaľ and Olejník were talking about a bribe.

In his appeal Borec argued that the courts did not observe the so-called ‘dubio pro reo’ principle, which is that the doubts must be assessed for the benefit of the accused. The minister also claimed that Olejník was sentenced based on indirect evidence; recordings from phone tapping while no other evidence has convicted him of corruption, according to TASR.

Olejník was elected to the city council with the support of Smer. Borec, who is a Smer nominee, insists the appeal is not politically motivated.

The minister’s appeal came one day after the Košice district police department received a court order to bring Olejník to prison. Olejník, however, did not go to prison, and on January 29, Borec again intervened and issued an order suspending Olejník’s prison sentence, Trend reported.

Borec under fire

“The justice minister has been saying from the very beginning that only a court can decide over the appeal,” Justice Ministry spokeswoman Alexandra Donevová said in response to the court’s decision.
The opposition is again calling for Borec’s resignation over the ordeal.

“The Supreme Court has confirmed the punishment for Mr Olejník, and Minister Borec, as well as deputies of Smer, who during the no-confidence vote defended their boss by questioning the original sentence for the corrupt politician Olejník, should draw consequences from this,” Gábor Gál, of the opposition Most-Híd, said in a statement.

The Justice Ministry has argued that it has had doubts about the decisions of courts in this case and thus it requested the appeals court to assess these. Officials now say they accept the verdict of the appeals court.

“If minister Borec is to resign only because the Supreme Court did not identify with his legal opinion, the new member of Most-Híd, Lucia Žitňanská, should have resigned 13 times as minister, since the Supreme Court has dismissed exactly this many appeals submitted by her,” Donevová said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

Daniel Lipšic, a former justice and interior minister, also suggested that Borec should resign.

“He should tell the public who pushed him to sign that scandalous appeal,” Lipšic said, as quoted by TASR. “It has been proved what we have been saying from the very beginning: this appeal is senseless.”

According to Lipšic, Borec’s appeal was only a rewritten appeal by Olejník’s lawyers. Borec joined those who are behaving corruptly in the public administration and by that he has lost his entitlement to the post of justice minister, Lipšic said.

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