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EDITORIAL

One for the good guys

THE CONVICTION of former Rača mayor Pavol Bielik on corruption charges is good news, because it tells us that the Special Court for political and organized crime is capable of doing its job under adverse conditions. Given Bielik's political connections, and the fact he never actually took the Sk5 million bribe he demanded, one can bet that any other court in this country would have set him free.

THE CONVICTION of former Rača mayor Pavol Bielik on corruption charges is good news, because it tells us that the Special Court for political and organized crime is capable of doing its job under adverse conditions. Given Bielik's political connections, and the fact he never actually took the Sk5 million bribe he demanded, one can bet that any other court in this country would have set him free.

But the verdict, like a goal scored by a team already down 10-0, also reveals the immensity of the corruption problem in this country. Attempts by the Justice Ministry to get rid of the Special Court also show that even when up by 10 goals, the bad guys are reluctant to concede a score, however hard-won. They're playing for keeps - so why isn't the government?

Corruption under the 1994-1998 Mečiar administration was both organized and opportunistic, petty and top-level, and perverted all major state institutions, including the police, the secret service, the banks, and anything to do with privatization. It also, crucially, linked politics and the secret service to organized crime, a link which has never been broken to this day.

The first Dzurinda government promised to clean the mess up, but they were far more concerned with their political opponents, i.e. SIS director Ivan Lexa, than "regular" organized crime and political corruption. Over the eight years Dzurinda was in power, and especially the five that Police VP Jaroslav Spišiak held office, the criminal tide receded, but the connections between organized crime, the secret service and politics were never entirely severed.

For example, Ľubomír K. is regarded by the police as one of the founders of organized crime in Bratislava, along with slain crime boss Miroslav Sýkora. The university-educated Ľubomír K. went on to lead the Takáč gang after its boss, Ján Takáč, went down in a hail of bullets in 2003. He also did business with men from "the other side" like Igor Grošaft, then the nominee of the SDK ruling party to the National Property Fund privatization agency, as well as Juraj Minarovjech, who served with the Slovenská Konsolidačná debt clearing agency under the SDKÚ-controlled Finance Ministry. Both men said in interviews with this reporter that they had been university classmates of Ľubomír K., and knew nothing of his alleged organized crime activities.

But there were other signs of links between crime and politics. Anton Rázga, the head of inspection at the secret service, was on the board of the MBH Assets firm from 2002 to 2004 with Martin B., a lawyer who spent several months in pre-trial custody in the police bust of the Takáč gang in 2004. Martin B. also served from 1999 to 2004 on the board of the Project One firm, which privatized a military barracks after a related firm assumed a Sk22 million debt owed by the ruling SDKÚ party.

More importantly, the organized gang that for over a decade mixed light heating oil with chemical additives and passed it off as gasoline - thus earning a huge profit on the consumer fuel taxes they avoided paying - also seemed to implicate the SDKÚ, with an MP for the party, Libuša Martinčeková, among the 83 people charged in a major 2004 bust of the gang.

This isn't to suggest that one party is more susceptible to crime than another. Organized crime in Slovakia will take any avenue to state power it can find, regardless of who controls access. The point is that crime and politics are still in step, and rather than trying to disrupt this fateful partnership, the Fico government has so far done almost everything it can - firing Spišiak, politicizing the courts, attacking the Special Court - to weaken the state's response.

Hats off to the Special Court for having the courage to sentence Bielik. Let's hope it's the start of a comeback, however improbable, against a determined and deeply entrenched opponent.


- Tom Nicholson

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