Slovak far-right leader Marian Kotleba was sentenced to four years and four months in jail on Monday evening, after an event at which he handed out cheques in a reference to a neo-Nazi trope.
Mr Kotleba, whose People’s Party Our Slovakia (L’SNS) came fourth in February’s parliamentary election, handed poor families cheques for €1,488 at an event in the central region of Banska Bystrica in 2017.
The number 1488 is symbolic for neo-Nazis, referring to a 14-word white-supremacist slogan, and the 88 shorthand for the Nazi greeting, “Heil Hitler”, which begins with the eighth letter of the alphabet.
The event in Banska Bystrica marked the anniversary of the founding of the fascist Slovak state that existed from 1939 to 1945.
A special court in Pezinok accepted that the references were intentional and found Mr Kotleba guilty of supporting a movement aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms.
Mr Kotleba, who had pleaded not guilty, said he would appeal against the verdict, meaning that the case will now proceed to the country’s Supreme Court.
During a closing speech that lasted more than eight hours, Mr Kotleba claimed that the 1488 number was a coincidence and read out a list of other objects worth a similar amount, according to Slovak media reports.
He also brought three bags of euro coins with him to the court — one containing €14, a second with €88 and a third with €1,488 — to illustrate his argument that prosecutors were wrong in splitting the 1488 figure on the cheques into 14 and 88.
“If the prosecutor’s logic were to apply, I could lend these €14 and these €88 and ask for these €1,488 back,” he said, according to the newspaper, Dennik N.
A former school teacher who used to dress up in a black uniform reminiscent of the militia of the Nazi-supporting wartime Slovak state, Mr Kotleba came to prominence in 2016, when L’SNS unexpectedly won 8 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary election.
As well as vilifying the Roma community, the 43-year-old has previously called for Muslims to be banned from Slovakia and also pushed for the country to leave Nato.
Mr Kotleba’s trial comes a year after prosecutors attempted to get L’SNS banned, claiming that it was an extremist group.
However, the request was rejected by the Supreme Court, and L’SNS subsequently won 8 per cent of the vote in February’s election, earning itself 14 seats in Slovakia’s 150-strong parliament.
The case is the first time that a court in Slovakia has sentenced a member of parliament to a prison term. If the verdict is confirmed by the Supreme Court, Mr Kotleba will lose his seat in Slovakia’s lower house.
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