Friday, June 29, 2012

Zoltai asks the Irish people for help

This is the full text of Mr. Zoltai's press conference in Dublin, courtesy of Route 66.

Dublin, June 28, 2012.

My name is Bence Zoltai. I came from Budapest, Hungary. I will be talking about the Ciaran Tobin case.

The following background of this case is from the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia.

On 9 April 2000, Ciarán Tobin, an Irish citizen working as a senior manager of Irish Life and Permanent in Hungary, was driving through the small town of Leányfalu. He was speeding, (I would call it racing), according to the experts he drove his Volvo at least 70-80 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. He lost control of his vehicle, and ran onto the footpath, drove on the footpath a hundred meters without braking. The car hit and immediately killed two children, 2 year old Petra Zoltai who was sitting in a pram, and her brother 5 year old Márton Zoltai. They were waiting on the footpath to cross the crowded street. The whole accident happened so quickly that the grandmother and the aunt of the children had no chance to pull them away. Petra and Márton were my daughter and son.

The Hungarian authorities took his passport, however some months later, in September 2000 he requested that he get his passport back for a family visit. His request was strongly supported by the Irish Ambassador to Hungary, Mr. Jim Flavin. The Hungarian authorities acted in an unusual promptness, and returned his passport in exchange for a security deposit of 500,000 forints (less than 2000 EUR at that time) within one day of the application. He left, and returned as promised without giving back his passport to the police.

Irish Life didn't extend Tobin’s assignment and with his passport in his pocket he returned to Ireland in November 2000. He did not show up for the trial although he promised it before leaving, but was duly represented by his lawyers, which was his own decision. Neither me, nor my lawyer ever had the chance to ask Tobin what really happened in the car before the accident. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison. On appeal the sentence was supplemented so that Tobin can only be paroled after serving at least 18 months. This was later mistranslated and you could read in the newspapers that his sentence was cut to 18 months, which is not true.

In 2005 Hungary requested the extradition of Mr. Tobin by issuing a European Arrest Warrant. In 2007, one and a half year after the Arrest Warrant was issued, both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Ireland refused Tobin’s extradition. The justification was astonishing: as Tobin left Hungary with his passport, he did not flee, therefore he could not be extradited. This was the first scandalous decision from the Irish side.

In 2009 the law on extradition changed in Ireland (mainly because of this case), and the Hungarian authorities requested the extradition of Mr. Tobin again. This time it took 32 long months for the Irish Courts to decide. High Court decided that Tobin would be extradited whereas the Supreme Court, by a three/two majority, allowed his appeal against that decision last week.

In the judgment, one of the 5 judges, Mr. Justice Hardiman said a number of unbelievable reasons to explain the second scandalous decision including:

1. a Hungarian national in similar circumstances could not have been extradited to Ireland because Hungary (according to an EU framework) allows its citizens to serve time at home for sentences imposed on them abroad. Can you see this crazy logic? If a Hungarian can serve the sentence at home, then an Irish can do so, too. Then why is Tobin not in jail in Ireland? Because this way of serving does not exist in Irish law.

2. Judge Hardiman also refused extradition on grounds of contradictory and inconsistent documents from the Hungarian authorities related to the length of sentence Mr. Tobin would have to serve. I simply do not believe this. There may have been incorrect newspaper articles about the length of the sentence, but I saw the Arrest Warrant myself in the Hungarian Ministry with the official, professional translation and that was correct. Anyone saying something else is not saying the truth.

3. What other explanations did Judge Hardiman provide? He said: this case illustrated how a perfectly ordinary person, of good character, can in a moment, and without any intentional or malicious act on his part, become first a suspect, then a convict sentenced to three years in a foreign jail, the judge said. Mr Tobin was pursued for many years on “a number of inconsistent grounds”. I don’t see any inconsistent ground here: Tobin killed my two children, he was sentenced and he fled from the punishment with the assistance of the Hungarian and Irish authorities. Full stop.

4. Back to the explanations, Hardiman said: The combined effect of this “tragedy” and the impossibility of life as a fugitive for a respectable person led Mr Tobin to offer to serve the three-year sentence – the justice of which, and associated conviction, he had never accepted – providing he could serve it in Ireland, the judge said. This so-called offer was rejected because there was no basis in Irish law for it. Tobin, with the number of well paid lawyers must have known that his offer will be rejected. This is a comedy again.

5. Finally, Mr. Justice Hardiman was very critical of the State’s conduct of the matter and said his concerns included the “grossly abnormal” period of time during which Mr Tobin was under threat of “forcible separation from his family”. This was discreditable to this State and to the Hungarian authorities. Well, what is grossly abnormal in my opinion is MY forcible separation from my children by an irresponsible driver and the queer decisions of the Irish Courts on this issue.

This is 12 years’ story in a nutshell. I am not in the position to change this decision. But you, the voice of Ireland have the right to take back the decision making power from judges who proved to be unsuitable and force them to resign.

Thank you for your time. I appreciate that you came to listen to me.

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