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FORMER SECRET SERVICE CHIEF SUING SLOVAKIA IN STRASBOURG

Lexa freed on Remiáš murder charge

SPECIAL Prosecutor Dušan Kováčik on September 22 drew the curtains on the final act in Slovakia's longest running political crime saga, the prosecution of former secret service chief Ivan Lexa for allegedly ordering an assassination while he ran the SIS from 1995 to 1998.

SPECIAL Prosecutor Dušan Kováčik on September 22 drew the curtains on the final act in Slovakia's longest running political crime saga, the prosecution of former secret service chief Ivan Lexa for allegedly ordering an assassination while he ran the SIS from 1995 to 1998.

Kováčik told a joint press conference with Attorney General Dobroslav Trnka that the charges had been dropped against Lexa for orchestrating the 1996 murder of Robert Remiáš, a key figure in the investigation of a political kidnapping blamed on the SIS.

The case was shelved after an investigation lasting almost a decade because the evidence it rested on was weak. Crown witness Karol Szatmáry, an organized crime boss from Veľké Kapušany in eastern Slovakia, testified that Lexa had ordered the murder through the Bratislava underworld. However, police later discovered that the man Szatmáry said had given him this information in 1998, hitman Imrich Oláh, had been killed by Szatmáry himself the year before.

Szatmáry disappeared in 2000, but his body turned up in a river in eastern Slovakia last year. During the time he was in hiding, a letter was delivered to the police retracting his testimony implicating Lexa.

Kováčik said that Szatmáry had probably been lying to win favours from the police. "It was in exchange for his being released from jail. He was then taken into the witness protection program, but left it."

The case now returns to the beginning, with the Bratislava Regional Prosecutor's Office tasked with determining whether Remiáš death was a murder at all. Prosecutors will go over the testimony of the remaining living witnesses, as well as the physical evidence, but are expected to have problems reconstructing the crime due to the passage of so much time.

Remiáš, a former policeman, was the best friend of SIS agent Oskar Fegyeveres, who claimed that the SIS had organized the 1995 kidnapping of the sitting president's son, Michal Kováč Jr. According to a 1999 report on the SIS under Lexa by Lexa's successor, Vladimír Mitro, Remiáš was under aggressive surveillance by the SIS from late 1995 through the day of his death.

Remiáš burned to death in his BMW, which crashed following an explosion on a rainy night in the Karlová Ves suburb of Bratislava. At first the police claimed the vehicle had blown up due to a malfunction in its fuel system, but the Criminal Forensics Institute determined several months later that Remiáš was killed by a bomb planted near his gas tank.

Recently, however, Lexa's defence team has been gathering expert viewpoints from foreign criminal analysts in support of their contention that the explosion was indeed due to a malfunction. Kováčik said the prosecutor's office would be examining this explanation as well.

"The conclusions [of the foreign experts] that the defence has supplied so far differ from the results of the analysis by the Criminal Forensics Institute," Kováčik said.

The 1994-1998 Mečiar government took heavy criticism from Western diplomats for undermining the country's democracy. The unsolved Remiáš murder and Kováč kidnapping came to symbolize this dark period in Slovak history.

The SIS was suspected of having kidnapped Kováč Jr to pressure his father, an opponent of the Mečiar government, into resigning. After President Kováč's term ended in March 1998, some presidential powers devolved to Mečiar, who used them to issue a blanket amnesty in the kidnapping case, preventing further investigation.

During their investigation of the Remiáš murder, police suspected that the motive might have been to silence a witness to the kidnapping, as well as to intimidate other potential witnesses.

Thirteen charges against Ivan Lexa from his time with the secret service have resulted in not-guilty verdicts or dropped charges, while a 14th charge is still before the Supreme Court, according to counsel Ján Cuper.

The defendant now becomes the plaintiff in two complaints against the Slovak Republic that have been accepted for proceedings by the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In the first case, which could be decided this year, the court is to decide whether the Slovak court system was justified in taking Lexa into pre-trial custody in 1999. Lexa's lawyers have asked for a symbolic one euro in damages.

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