BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — An appeals court in Slovakia on Tuesday dismissed a lower court ruling that convicted the leader of a far-right party for the illegal use of neo-Nazi symbols.
But the country's Supreme Court still found Marian Kotleba guilty of sympathizing with neo-Nazism and gave him a six-month suspended sentence.
Kotleba, head of the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia, stood trial after he presented three families with checks for 1,488 euros ($1,633) on March 14, 2017, on the anniversary of the Slovak wartime state’s establishment in 1939.
The number 1,488 has a symbolic meaning for neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Kotleba appealed an October 2020 ruling by the Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok, which sentenced him to four years and four months in prison.
Tuesday's ruling by the country’s Supreme Court is final.
The People’s Party Our Slovakia, whose members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia out of the European Union and NATO, was the fourth-most popular party in the country in the 2020 parliamentary election with 8% support.
Kotleba and his party’s members openly back the legacy of the Nazi puppet state that Slovakia was during World War II.
Kotleba will lose his parliament seat with the ruling. Another member of his party, Milan Mazurek, became the first Slovak lawmaker to lose his parliament seat in 2019 after he was convicted of using illegal racist comments about the Roma community.
In 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed a request by the country’s prosecutor general to ban Kotleba’s party. In his request, Jaromir Ciznar said the People’s Party Our Slovakia is an extremist group whose activities violate the country’s constitution and aims to destroy the country’s democratic system.
The court ruled at the time that the prosecutor general failed to provide enough evidence for the ban.