Kamloops resident and Thompson Rivers University professor David Scheffel, who was facing a raft of charges in Slovakia, has been sentenced to seven years in prison, Slovakian media outlets are reporting.
Earlier this week, a Slovakian court in Prešov found Scheffel guilty of sexual abuse and illegal weapon possession — an old unloaded rifle given to him by his father — and struck down charges concerning child pornogrophy, said Ivan Somlai, a friend and colleague of Scheffel’s who has been in contact with his lawyer.
“On one hand, the court approved our claim that there was no crime related to child pornography, but on the other hand, the sexual abuse is problematic due to the circumstances under which it allegedly happened,” said Scheffel’s lawyer Daniel Lipšic, as quoted by TV Markíza.
Scheffel, who is a permanent resident of Canada, but has Dutch citizenship, maintains his innocence.
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He has spent years studying child prostitution in the Roma settlements of eastern Slovakia and believes the charges brought against him are trumped up and an attempt to brand an advocate of the Romani people as their enemy.
Somlai said Scheffel and his lawyer have launched an appeal and intend to prepare the appellate brief once the written decision is handed down by the end of the month.
One of the main issues for the defence, Somlai said, is that while the court found the testimonies of minor witnesses credible, there was no opportunity for cross-examination.
An article in the Slovak Spectator also noted the judge deciding on the case took into consideration only the testimonies which had been done without Lipšic’s presence.
“They do feel they have an extremely strong reason for a successful appeal,” Somlai said.
Having stayed abreast of his friend’s case from Kamloops, Somlai said he hasn’t heard of any assistance coming from the Canadian government, despite having written various letters to lawmakers, pointing out the assistance permanent residents like Scheffel are afforded.
“Absolutely zero,” Somlai said when asked for government’s response. “I think the government is absolutely pre-occupied with China, with Huawei, with Trump — anything other than humanitarian assistance.”
Somlai has also expressed frustration with local Conservative MP Cathy McLeod, who he described as being seemingly uninterested in communicating with regard to Scheffel.
“If she has tried or done anything, it remains a secret,” Somlai said of McLeod.
“Considering we are dealing with an EU member country, it is highly improbable that well-briefed representatives of Canada, in various positions, could not provide some useful support.”
A call to McLeod for comment regarding the Scheffel verdict yielded a call from a staff member in her office who said McLeod was en route back to Kamloops and wasn’t able to comment without permission from Scheffel’s family.
During a townhall meeting at TRU in January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there isn’t much his government can do in terms of consular support as Scheffel is a Dutch citizen, but noted his officials have been “working very closely with Dutch authorities to make sure he’s getting all the support he can in the situation he’s in right now.”
Trudeau, however, did not elaborate as to what that work has entailed.
Scheffel has told KTW that while he was in prison, he was visited by the Dutch ambassador to Slovakia, who assured him Dutch authorities were doing everything they can, but that they cannot question Slovak police and judicial procedures since they are required to comply with EU standards.
Scheffel said his lawyer met with Heidi Hulin, the Canadian ambassador to the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Scheffel has been detained in Slovakia for nearly two years, having been arrested in November 2017 when he took a flight from Canada to speak with police in Prešov regarding the accusations against him.
He was jailed for 10 months before being released on bail last fall, with the condition he wear an ankle monitoring bracelet. Scheffel told KTW his family was able to visit him at Christmas, which brightened his spirits.
Scheffel, however, was jailed again earlier this year after allegedly being in contact with a witness, according to Somlai and the Slovakian Spectator article.
That article stated that during the trial last summer, a psychologist evaluated the testimonies of several Romani girls, who claimed Scheffel touched them and took their nude photos. The psychologist said the testimonies were trustworthy. Lipšic pointed to contradictions in their testimonies.
Lipšic asked the court to include Scheffel’s recordings with the girls.
“They will confirm that fabulation and lies are present in the relevant part of their testimonies,” Lipšic said, as quoted by the private broadcaster TV JOJ.
He also doubted, in part, the psychology expert’s report since she did not get later testimonies and recordings.
Scheffel has rejected all the accusations, adding mothers of the girls also testified in his favour at one of the last hearings.
TRU sent KTW a statement, saying the university administration is aware of and monitoring the situation, but that it is unable to provide further comment due to privacy laws.