Retail chain facing distrainment after failing to pay a €1 million fine

The new law orders retailers to pay fines immediately, regardless of whether they appeal.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: Sme)

If you fail to pay the fine, we will initiate distrainment. This is how the Agriculture Ministry, led by Gabriela Matečná (the Slovak National Party), has threatened retail chains that fail to pay for their flaws under the new rules, the Sme daily reported.

The fines are imposed by the State Veterinary and Food Administration (ŠVPS). The retailers can be sanctioned, for example, if they sell products after the expiration date. The fine can be as high as €1 million if the comptrollers repeatedly reveal the same errors during a year.

ŠVPS has already imposed 25 such fines since 2014, with the most fined retailers being Billa and Tesco, Sme wrote.

New rules applied

Although there was a possibility to initiative distraint procedures against retailers before, lawyers have warned of the new rules.

Coming into force this May, retailers are required to pay the high fines within 15 days. Even if they appeal the decision, they are still forced to pay the fine.

One of the first retailers to be fined under the new rules is Billa, which was fined by ŠPVS back in July. Billa has refused to pay the fine though, calling it an unjust decision.

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“It’s really non-standard,” Radovan Pala of the Taylor Wessing law firm told Sme. “I don’t know of any case in which the first-instance decision of the respective body concerning the fine immediately became a base for distrainment.”

More often, when a subject appeals the decision, the payment is delayed. Although there are some exceptions, they are usually not used in practice, Pavol Poláček of Poláček & Partners law firm told Sme.

Billa considers the fine high

Several retailers have turned to the courts due to the fines. The only one that has already paid the €1 million fine is Kaufland, Sme wrote.

Billa has recently been fined for selling biscuits and hazelnuts after the best before date in one of its Bratislava shops. Although the retailer has made several errors in the past, it considers the fine inappropriately high.

“We’re using all legal means arising from the Slovak Constitution to defend ourselves from unjust decisions and laws,” said Billa’s spokesperson Kvetoslava Kirchnerová, as quoted by Sme.

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This is why Billa has not paid the fine within 15 days.

“It’s unacceptable that an Austrian company belonging to the German concern and doing business in Slovakia doesn’t respect Slovak laws,” responded Matečná, as quoted by Sme.

ŠVPS did not register any payment from Billa on its account on the morning of August 2, its head Jozef Bíreš confirmed. If the retailer fails to pay, the ministry is ready to act, said its spokesperson Vladimír Machalík, as reported by Sme.

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