SIS in hot water over security scam

THE SLOVAK secret service has again come under fire after police sources confirmed they were investigating top intelligence officers for using security clearance certificates to extort money.

THE SLOVAK secret service has again come under fire after police sources confirmed they were investigating top intelligence officers for using security clearance certificates to extort money.

Unnamed officers with the SIS intelligence service allegedly demanded hundreds of thousands of crowns to either falsify or withhold information on background documents the SIS prepares for the National Security Bureau.

The Bureau uses the information to issue security clearances to individuals and companies. The certificates are required by firms competing for state orders, for instance.

Police believe the officers in some cases withheld compromising information and gave companies positive evaluations that helped them pass their industrial safety screenings.

In other cases, they were allegedly paid by companies to blackball competitor firms.

The parliamentary SIS Oversight Committee was to meet on May 25 to discuss the issue with SIS Director Ladislav Pittner.

SIS spokesman Vladimír Šimko told The Slovak Spectator that Pittner had "certain information for the MPs" and hoped to explain the matter.

He added that the SIS "is prepared to work with the police to investigate the issue".

Police contacted the SIS on May 22, Šimko said, whereupon the service promised to help.

"We didn't discuss any particular names but SIS Director Pittner promised to assist the investigation.

"So far the police have not asked the director to allow SIS personnel to testify, but if such request is made, the SIS director is prepared to do so," Šimko said.

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, under whose authority the SIS falls, refused to comment on the issue ahead of the parliamentary meeting. His spokesman Martin Maruška said that "we would regard any comment on this issue as interference with the investigation".

Šimko said that the SIS could track down those who had manipulated data in the event that any abuse of power had occurred, but refused to speculate on whether the SIS system had been hijacked by renegade agents.

"Mistakes are possible in all areas of human activities," he said.

The security clearance investigation is the second scandal the SIS has faced recently.

Several weeks ago it was discovered that SIS agent Dana Arpášová had been a member of the former ruling Slovak National Party (SNS), although SIS agents are banned from membership in political parties.

Arpášová was also found to have been asking unauthorized questions about a high-stakes political corruption case at the Special Court in Pezinok.

The Slovak media reported that Arpášová was the wife of the head of counter-intelligence at the SIS.

With many people now believing that the country's intelligence service needs better supervision, several top politicians have called on Dzurinda to deal with the situation.

Some MPs have even suggested that Dzurinda should fire Pittner for not having the service under control.

"Heads roll immediately in similar cases abroad," said Dušan Čaplovič from the opposition Smer party.

Among the fiercest critics of the SIS is the governmental Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which has also demanded that Dzurinda take a clear stand on the issue.

"The prime minister should act and replace Pittner with someone able to ensure that the SIS operates in keeping with the law," said Gyula Bárdos, the head of the SMK's parliamentary caucus.

Viliam Soboňa, the chairman of the SIS Oversight Committee, also said the matter was grave.

"It's a serious problem that may lead to changes at the SIS as well as the National Security Bureau from the ground up. If these allegations are true, it could have international consequences," Soboňa told the TASR news agency.

Yet despite mounting criticism from both his political opponents and partners, the PM seems unlikely to make any major changes to the SIS ahead of June elections.

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