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MAN OFFERED "PROTECTION" FOR SK10 MILLION FROM FORMER ECONOMY MINISTER

Rusko helps police sting martial arts champion

FORMER Economy Minister Pavol Rusko returned to the media spotlight in March with a claim that a martial arts specialist had demanded millions of crowns to "protect" him and his family from kidnapping and a smear campaign.

FORMER Economy Minister Pavol Rusko returned to the media spotlight in March with a claim that a martial arts specialist had demanded millions of crowns to "protect" him and his family from kidnapping and a smear campaign.

Rusko, an MP and chairman of the opposition New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, said at a press conference that he had worn a wire to help police apprehend a man demanding Sk10 million (€270,000) from him.

Police confirmed that the man, a 33-year-old businessman named Róbert Mikula from Košice, was apprehended on March 6 in the western Slovak town of Stupava.

ANO spokesperson Magda Krasulová said the man had also offered to protect Rusko from mafia extortion.

Police Presidium spokesman Martin Korch said that the man was arrested after accepting Sk2 million (€54,054) in cash from Rusko, who was acting on police instructions as an agent provocateur.

The Sk2 million was handed over as part of the sum demanded.

"The meeting on March 6 was preceded by another meeting in Stupava, which took place on February 26. The accused then demanded Sk10 million (€270,000) from Mr Rusko, and on March 6 he handed over a part of that sum. Shortly after that, Robert M. was arrested," Korch told The Slovak Spectator on March 7.

The man was accused of "a particularly serious crime of bribery", according to Korch. A court was to decide whether the man would be taken into pre-trial custody. If convicted, Róbert M, the owner of martial arts school in Košice, faces 10 to 15 years in jail.

Apart from his successes in martial arts competition, Róbert M is also known in Slovakia as a Guinness record holder in unusual disciplines. In 2002 he pushed a tram 76 meters with the sharp end of a spear against his body.

According to Korch, Róbert M told Rusko at their first meeting in February that with the help of a police investigator, two prosecutors and a judge he could ensure that all police investigations of Rusko would be "swept under the table".

Several years ago, Rusko was investigated by the police for allegedly blackmailing Drukos company owner František Mojžiš. Police also examined a Sk1.5 billion (€40 million) transfer from an Economy Ministry fund to a private company last summer that cost Rusko his ministerial seat.

When asked whether the police were currently working on any cases related to the former Economy Minister, Korch refused to comment for The Slovak Spectator.

"The investigation in the whole case is ongoing, so we cannot provide such information," he said.

Korch also said that police were looking into whether Róbert M really had links to police investigators, as he claimed to Rusko.

"We don't know whether this person really had such contacts; it's something he could have made up to get money out of Mr Rusko. Everything is being investigated," Korch said.

Rusko said that Róbert M had claimed to have good contacts with the secret service, and that a clandestine squad had been created at an unnamed state institution to prepare smear campaigns against politicians.

The aim of the campaigns was to convince politicians or wealthy entrepreneurs to pay for protection, Rusko said.

Rusko, who recently sold his stake in Slovakia's most-watched private television station, TV Markíza, for $28.5 million, also said that this unit and the criminal underworld were scheming to get Rusko's money from the Markíza stake.

According to Róbert M, Rusko's family was also in danger of kidnapping.

According to Rusko, Róbert M said that if the politician paid him a one-off sum of Sk10 million (€270,000) and Sk1 million (€30,000) per month thereafter for the two prosecutors, a judge and a top police official, he could avert the danger and Rusko would be "safe until the end".

The Slovak Information Service (SIS) said Róbert M had never worked for the secret service.

"The service will not comment on allegations made by a person who is suspected of blackmail," SIS spokesman Vladimír Šimko said on March 7.

Slovak politicians were not sure what to make of the latest case involving Rusko.

At the end of last year, following his own political woes and his divestment of Markíza, Rusko released secretly recorded tapes of his former ANO party colleagues speaking of offers of bribery they had allegedly received in return for supporting the ruling coalition in parliament.

At the time Rusko had already left the coalition, and the minority government was unable to raise enough support in parliament even to formally open sessions in the legislature.

Police investigators recently shelved one such case involving former ANO member Iveta Henzélyová, now an independent MP, concluding that although a crime had occured, investigators had failed to secure enough evidence to charge anyone in particular.

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