Slovak politician gets 4 months and 4 years for establishing a movement to suppress human rights, he appeals
The Slovak politician Marián Kotleba has been found guilty of having distributed checks made out for EUR 1488 in his role as Governor of Banská Bystrica and chair of the "People's Party Our Slovakia" (ĽSNS) where the numbers "14" and "88" were used as neo-Nazi codes. The specialized criminal court in Pezinok has sentenced him to four years and four months in prison.
Kotleba is meant to be sent to a minimum-security prison. The verdict that was handed down after Kotleba made a closing statement lasting seven hours has yet to take effect.
The politician appealed immediately, so the Supreme Court will decide the case next. If the special court's verdict is upheld, Kotleba will lose his seat in the National Assembly.
Judge: The numbers are only meaningful in association with extremism
Kotleba has been convicted of committing the crime of establishing, supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms and was thereby convicted of an offense requiring stricter punishment than the offense with which he was originally charged. Judge Růžena Sabová pointed out that he had committed his crime publicly in the presence of about 300 people.
Eyewitness Peter Demjan, who was one of the recipients of Kotleba's donation, submitted the gift contract to the court as evidence, where the donor was listed as Kotleba himself, not his party. The court said the fact that Kotleba was personally a party to the contract cast significant doubt on the defendant's claim that the gift was the proceeds of a collection undertaken by his party.
Furthermore, the judge said she had taken into consideration the testimony of the statutory representative of the HC Veľký Krtíš Ice Hockey Club, Igor Talpáš, who testified to detectives three years ago to having applied to the Governor for a subsidy advertised as "up to EUR 1500". The amount of EUR 1488 was then sent to the hockey club's account from the Banská Bystrica Regional Authority.
The defense argued that all people who use the numbers 14 and 88 should be prosecuted for using them if their meaning is what the state alleged, but the judge said numerals in and of themselves have no meaning and that proceeding as the defendant suggested would be illogical and unnatural. She said the numbers are only meaningful in the context of extremism.
"For that reason, the court has focused on investigating whether such [extremist] circumstances were ascertained on the side of the defendant at the time when those numbers were presented to the public," she said. At the event on 14 March 2017 where the checks were awarded, Kotleba also celebrated the legacy of Jozef Tiso, according to the judge.
The judge said that in addition to collaborating with Nazi Germany by deporting many Jews to concentration and extermination camps in Germany and German-occupied Poland, Tiso was responsible for the persecution of Romani people during his time as the Slovak State's highest representative, among other matters. Speaking after the trial had ended, Prosecutor Tomáš Honz said today's verdict was groundbreaking.
According to Honz, the verdict will influence legal practice in Slovakia. "It's difficult for me to speak now, I am a bit moved," he told the media after the verdict was announced.
"Fifteen years after Slovak Solidarity was ordered dissolved, the Slovak Republic has finally seen a verdict against the leading representative of extremism here. Kotleba deserves prison without parole," the prosecutor said.
"This sends the message to all democrats that the courts and the prosecutor will stand up for people who are the victims of fascism and extremism," Honz told the media. In his view, the Prosecutor-General should consider a new lawsuit seeking the dissolution of the ĽSNS.
Kotelba: These charges are fabricated
After the verdict was announced, Kotleba alleged it had been ordered politically. "I anticipated acquittal. This verdict was written in advance, this was a fait accompli. The judge did not take a single argument from my defense into consideration," he told the press, after which he announced he is appealing.
The defendant had already called the charges fabricated during closing arguments. The judge also fined him EUR 500 during his closing speech for having failed to address the charges, in her view, despite having been warned to do so.
"Nowhere in the applicable legislation is it written that it is a crime to donate taxed money to a family, whatever the amount," Kotleba said in his defense. He was charged with having made the financial gifts to three families using novelty checks during a public event at a high school in Banská Bystrica in front of 300 invited guests.
Each of the checks was printed for EUR 1488. The numbers 14 and 88, according to detectives, are known and used in extremist symbolism.
The gift was made on the anniversary of the establishment of the WWII-era Slovak State. That phase of the Slovak Republic, which Kotleba espouses, was closely associated with Nazi Germany, of which it was a client state.
"I consider my indictment and trial to have all been for show. The choice of what to admit into evidence was also tendentious," Kotleba alleged.
The politician said the awarding of the checks had been an event to aid impoverished families. During the first three hours of his closing argument, the defendant did not address his remarks to the case itself for quite some time.
Instead, Kotleba read out loud the various bills that his party had proposed in the unicameral legislature, prompting the judge to order him to return to the topic of the charges against him, and after he refused to do so, she fined him for violating her order. The politician then filed a complaint against that decision.
Previously in the trial Kotleba had said the detective working on the case had intentionally divided the sum of EUR 1488 on the checks at issue into the two numberals 14 and 88 and that he had ignored the fact that it was a total amount of money, as indicated by the currency symbol. One of his defense attorneys read a list of goods commonly sold for prices that include both of the numerals at issue during closing arguments.
The judge cut short the defense attorney's closing speech because, in her view, the attorney had completely deviated from the case at hand. The number 14, according to the prosecution, is a reference to the number of words in an English-language sentence pronounced by the right-wing terrorist David Lane, which are: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
The numeral 8 represents the eighth letter of the alphabet, which is H; this means 88 is read as HH and is considered an abbreviation for the Nazi greeting "Heil Hitler". An expert witness summoned to the court testified previously that the number 14 is used in a racist context on the extremist scene and that the number 88 stands for the Nazi greeting.
Kotleba, the former Governor of the Banská Bystrica Region, became famous for his anti-Romani remarks and for organizing marches against the Romani minority in Slovakia. His party, the ĽSNS, was first elected to the National Assembly in 2016.
Last spring Slovakia's Supreme Court rejected a motion by the Prosecutor-General to dissolve the LSNS for extremism. Kotleba's fellow party member Milan Mazurek lost his seat in the national legislature last year as well after the Supreme Court found him guilty of making anti-Romani remarks and fined him.
During the elections in February to the Slovak national legislature Mazurek was re-elected by preferential ballots being cast for him; he ran in the final place on the LSNS candidate list. He was able to run for office because he paid his fine and was considered to have served his punishment.
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