This May marked ten years since the moment when officers working under the then-construction minister, Marian Janušek (SNS) published the announcement of a public tender, worth €120 million, on a bulletin board in the closed lobby of the ministerial building.
This Wednesday, October 18, Janušek was sentenced to 12 years in prison. His successor in the position, Igor Štefanov, also received a prison sentence of nine years.
Why did one of the biggest corruption scandals become protracted for years until only now do we have the first verdict, which the former politicians immediately appealed?
The case went no-where with the police, too. Although the first suspicions of avoidance of the law go back to 2007, the police launched the first criminal prosecution in this case as late as September 2009. They ultimately charged specific people, including both the ex-ministers, only two years later, in March.
By that time, their sentencing seemed unrealistic and the suspects no longer feared any consequences.
“These criminal complaints are jokes,” Štefanov said while still serving his term as a minister. He added that his fault was that as an officer working under Janušek, he had signed contracts worth millions.
At that time, he really did not have anything to fear . He was still protected by the MP's immunity, while the General Prosecutor's Office, then temporarily led by Ladislav Tichý, refused to ask parliament to strip him of this.
Tichý argued that the police failed to prove any guilt on behalf of Štefanov.
“So far, not all the facts that would entitle me to file a request for approval of the criminal prosecution of MP Igor Štefanov, have been established,” explained Tichý who returned the whole file of the bulletin-board tender for re-investigation.
Janušek, when commenting on the tender, only repeated that he had signed what was given to him to be signed, and he had no clue about any bulletin board.
They did a sloppy job with expert opinions
Over the course of time, statements from both ex-ministers became more moderate, especially after their party, the SNS, left parliament.
Consequently, Štefanov was finally charged shortly after the 2012 election when he lost the MP's immunity.
In the following months, the police claimed that they were finishing up their investigation which would be completed by the end of 2013. However, not even this deadline was kept and at the beginning of the next year, they started to elaborate on new expert opinions. The prosecutor claimed it was not possible to specify what damage the state did suffer.
“The volume of the order will be compared with real delivered goods and services,” Police President Tibor Gašpar explained.
Finally, the investigation was concluded in March 2016 with a total of five people being charged –the two ex-ministers as well as three more ministry officials.
The trial at the Specialised Criminal Court started this March and ultimately showed that other people may have been guilty in this case too.
The testimonies of several witnesses in the court session implied that the lawyers of the company which won the tender, Avocat belonging to Róbert Lenčéš and Juraj Hatvany, were involved in the case. They allegedly prepared the whole tender so that it could be later won by Avocat, a firm close to the SNS.
Marta Budišová, too, could have problems; she oversaw the tender from the position of Public Procurement Office official.
The Majský trial also becomes protracted
Despite the fact that Janušek with Štefanov have announced that they will appeal the verdict, they are already the first top politicians to be sentenced by the courts.
Former education minister László Szigeti, charged with subsidy fraud, was close to being sentenced. The Bratislava Regional Court acquitted him last month, however. The case involved subsidies of €116,000 from 2006, to renovate a school gym in the village of Zemianska Olča, which was in fact not renovated.
Other court cases involving well-known personalities have also become protracted for years.
Among them is the case of businessman Jozef Majský, accused of embezzling the bankrupt non-licensed bank institution, Horizont Slovakia, with damages amounting to about 40 million Slovak crowns.
Although the police first arrested him on the Austrian border 15 years ago, and later, he was sentenced to nine years in prison by the Specialised Court in Pezinok, he appealed the verdict. Since last year, the case has been stuck at the Supreme Court.
The chairperson of the panel dealing with this case, Gabriela Šimonová, last year told Sme that the court deals preferentially with other cases. The latest news is that the Majský trial is scheduled for the end of November.