During a period when low-level courts had budgets so low that they had to borrow paper for printing from higher courts and could not send mail because postage stamps were too expensive former Supreme Court head Štafan Harabin ordered himself bonuses totalling €113,000.
Supreme Court representatives made the claim during a July 19 press conference where they demanded Harabin to return his bonuses amounting to €40,000 in 2009 and €73,000 in 2010.
“He should return them mainly on the grounds that it simply is not in line with ethics,” Supreme Court spokesman Boris Urbančík told the press. “The sum of the bonuses highly exceeds standard bonuses paid out in that era. Moreover, he allocated them himself.”
Harabin responded with insults, calling the court’s president Daniela Švecová a schizophrenic who is ready for medical treatment. Meanwhile, his own version of events has serious plot holes.
Bonuses or salary
Harabin claims that the money did not come as bonuses. The extra payments were part of his salary for carrying out the agenda of the then Special Penal Court in Pezinok in addition to his work as Supreme Court head. In his words, he was entitled to an extra premium at what was sixfold the then average wage.
But the timelines make that explanation complicated. Until June 2009 Harabin served as justice minister and then he became Supreme Court head. As a minister he could not work as judge and thus could not receive judge’s salary including those extra payments.
Moreover in mid-July 2009, a few weeks after Harabin became a judge, the Special Penal Court in Pezinok was shut down and extra payments of judges carrying its agenda decreased to only twofold the average wage.
Paradoxically, it was Harabin who has been promoting this idea since the Special Penal Court in Pezinok originated in 2004. The Special Penal Court was replaced by the Specialised Court in 2009.
“Based on information I received from the accounting department it should be on July 17, 2009,” Katarína Kudjáková told The Slovak Spectator abut precise date when salaries decreased. meaning Harabin's explanation makes little sense.
The Supreme Court later released official salary documents of former court chief Stefan Harabin for 2009 and 2010 making it apparent that he at the time had indeed ordered extraordinary bonuses totalling €113,000 to be paid on his behalf.
“Štefan Harabin is lying and deceiving by claiming that the amount of €113,000 represents an additional payment due to judges who decide on appeals against verdicts of the Specialised Criminal Court,” a press release by the Supreme Court reads.
Change in tactics
After he was confronted with exact dates Harabin changed arguments.
It is not enough to publish copies of salary documents, according to Harabin. He required Švecová to show a written “decision by Harabin to self-allocate extraordinary bonuses to Harabin”. He gave her until July 31 to do so.
He announced that if Švecová does not apologize to him for making his bonuses’ amount public, he will sue her. Harabin added he would also seek “adequate financial compensation” from the court where he still works now.
The Supreme Court has not responded on his call so far.
Experiences with bonuses
It would not be the first time Harabin paid himself extraordinarily high bonuses. In 2001-2002, he allocated bonuses to himself, worth more than €13,000 (in 2001), and almost €23,000 (in 2002) as the Slovak Governance Institute (SGI) found in 2009.
“In years of 2001 and 2002 the sums were 10 times higher than any bonuses granted before,” Katarína Staroňová of SGI then told the private broadcaster Rádio Express. She added that SGI checked 1993-2006 period.
Harabin then used the situation he helped to create, according to SGI. Until 2001 parliament had the power to grant bonuses and then transferred this power to Judicial Council. The council however only started to run in 2002 because Harabin was blocking the election of council’s head in the meantime. Between those two dates Harabin as the Supreme Court head was able to grant bonuses to himself, according to SGI.
“Harabin just misused the vacuum he created,” SGI wrote in its blog.
The whole case has been investigated and the conclusion was that everything was in accordance with the law, Harabin claimed in his defence.
Income on lawsuits
Another source of income for Harabin was lawsuits. Since 2006, Harabin won tens of thousands of euros in damage compensation for harming his reputation. He won almost €100,000 from Pravda daily in 2006 and then more than €31,000 from the Sme daily three years later.
In 2013 Harabin won €150,000 from General Prosecutor Office but the Supreme Court cancelled the decision and returned it to lower courts.
Harabin was popular among judges therefore he was successful with his lawsuits. He pursued judges’ interests when it came to increasing salaries, according to former head of International Press Institute - Slovakia (IPI) Pavol Múdry.
“The compensations for libel he asked for in the past where multiple times higher than death compensations,” Múdry said. “This is immoral.”
Harabin granted huge bonuses to himself or to judges close to him, but when it came to his critics he was sparing, Sme wrote.
Judge Peter Paluda was among those affected. In 2010, a council of judges subordinated to Judicial Council proposed a bonus to Paluda after he became 50-years-old. The law says that after judges reach this age they are eligible for bonus in the same amount as their salary.
In 2009 Harabin said that “it would be immoral that judge who has been earning SVK202,000 (€6,705) in average got this bonus”, as quoted by Sme.
In 2011 the group of Harbin’s critics sent mail to him complaining about bonuses in amount €50 per person he granted to them. They wrote that “it is a mockery of work and results they reached in the recent year”. They returned those bonuses in total sum of €250 to him saying that he should return them back to Supreme Court coffers, Sme wrote.