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Weeds after Storm. Corruption charges in judiciary in Žilina now

Police have been investigating suspected extensive corruption for five years, now they have brought charges against judges and others.

What happened?

The National Criminal Agency (NAKA) intervened in Žilina (north of Slovakia) on September 14 against judges and people who were bribing them in order to “buy” a desired verdict.

The media reported that NAKA detained five people including the chair of the Regional Court in Žilina, Eva Kyselová, judge of the Žilina District Court; the currently out of service Daniel Béreš; and retired Judge Pavol Polka; Béreš’s childhood friend Juraj Filipovič; and attorney Ľuboš Mahdoň. NAKA raided three houses and charged 11 people.

Kyselová was released without charges on September 15, based on the decision of the plenum of the Constitutional Court.

Has it ever happened before?

NAKA has moved against judges before, when they arrested several judges linked with Marian Kočner on March 11, 2020.

NAKA raided the houses of a number of judges, including former deputy justice minister Monika Jankovská, her sister Andrea Haitová, and judge Zuzana Maruniaková.

The police are collaborating with another judge The police are collaborating with another judge mentioned in the communication, Vladimír Sklenka. The investigation in this case continues, Jankovská still in custody.

Who is who in the Weeds case?

The police believe that people who wanted to arrange a verdict would contact Žilina businessman František Tóth, otherwise known under the nickname “Veľký Fero” (Big Fero).

Tóth would then contact former judge Pavol Polka, who would proceed to arrange the verdict with his colleagues at the court.

Polka is a former judge who is living in a luxurious villa in Žilina. He has repeatedly failed to properly explain how he could afford such a property. His property was suspicious even 20 years ago when then-justice minister Ján Čarnogurský questioned it. He faced investigation repeatedly, the Sme daily reported.

Polka has also been known for suing people, particularly the media, who pointed out to his dubious property.

The police have been investigating the case since 2015. Gradually, they have been collecting more testimonies, for example, from Patrik Murza, a man with a criminal background who admitted that he had bribed Žilina judges via Tóth, the Sme daily reported.

Later, František Salinger of the Žilina underworld gave a similar testimony.

Tóth was arrested in summer 2019. He denied the accusations first, but later he started cooperating with the police.

Besides testimonies, police have wire-tapped recordings and the prosecutor’s office believes that it is enough to bring charges against the judges.

The Denník N daily published a price list of how much a verdict could have cost: an acquittal was €20,000, release from custody or conditional release €10,000.

What will happen next?

The Constitutional Court gave its permission to put Daniel Béreš, a Žilina District Court judge who is currently suspended, in custody.

Head of the Regional Court Žilina Eva Kyselová was released. She was detained for several hours, no charges brought against her. Suspicions that she was part of the corruption scheme were not confirmed, as Big Fero was reportedly the only one to testify against her, reported.

The Specialised Criminal Court in Banská Bystrica spent almost 14 hours, from the afternoon of September 16 until the early morning of September 17, deciding on about the custody request.

The judge of the Specialised Criminal Court decided to take all four accused people into custody. The reason for the arrest are concerns that they might try to influence witnesses, and in one case also the concern that the person might continue with criminal activity.

The charged person filed a complaint against the decision on custody, meaning the Supreme Court will now have to rule on it. The complaint was also filed by the prosecutor, as in one case the judge did not accept preventive custody but ordered collusion custody.

What is the reaction of the justice minister?

Justice Minister Mária Kolíková considers the arrest of the judges from Žilina as confirming that the judiciary needs reform.

“One thing is to investigate all suspicions linked with the corruption in judiciary, so that they bring about results that we will all understand,” Kolíková said on September 16, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Kolíková also stated that these cases indicate that systemic measures would be in place. The ones she is planning are linked with the new map of courts that she believes will lead to faster and better verdicts. One of the side effects should be the severing of corruption ties, Kolíková noted.

“Now we can see that such a change is essential for Slovakia,” she summed up.