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Embattled officer keeps his post

A POLICE officer who confessed in 1995 to helping a colleague violently extort a Sk5,000 debt is to remain in charge of an elite police unit.
Police corps president Ján Packa and Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák say that Marián Pecko, the head of the Anti-Drug Unit, is the victim of a smear campaign, and that he still has their confidence.

A POLICE officer who confessed in 1995 to helping a colleague violently extort a Sk5,000 debt is to remain in charge of an elite police unit.

Police corps president Ján Packa and Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák say that Marián Pecko, the head of the Anti-Drug Unit, is the victim of a smear campaign, and that he still has their confidence. They also maintain that since Pecko was never found guilty of any crime, it would be illegal for them to proceed against him.

"Someone is trying to play games here, and you journalists are being sucked in," said Kaliňák at a press conference on July 17. "You're playing the game of those who are unhappy that Pecko has brought in a tough regime at the Anti-Drug Unit."

Doubts about Pecko's fitness for his post come three months after charges were laid against six current and former officers who had allegedly acted as part of a gang carrying out thefts and kidnappings going back to 1999. Last year, three members of the gang were charged with the murder of businessman Ján Kubašiak, who was slain in a gory home invasion. An alleged member of that gang, Miroslav Jacko, was the colleague that Pecko helped to extort the debt 12 years ago.

According to documents obtained by the Sme daily, Pecko confessed in 1995 to having helped Jacko extort a Sk5,000 debt from Stanislav Ďurík that the latter owed to Jacko's wife. The case file claimed that a dozen special tactics officers wearing balaclavas kidnapped Ďurík from outside his house, beat him up, forced him to dig a grave in the woods, and then dumped him in a ditch, with Jacko allegedly saying, "Die, you rat".

Four of the operatives, including Pecko, confessed to participating, but later retracted their statements, saying they had been coerced by internal affairs investigators. The latter have denied putting any pressure on their subjects, and the prosecution file claims that "they [the accused] spontaneously and voluntarily described the manner in which the crime occurred".

All except Jacko were eventually found not guilty by a court in Banská Bystrica, which ruled that since the confessions had been made before the men were charged, "the transcripts containing their explanations were not usable in a court of law."

Police President Packa said he was satisfied that Pecko had not disqualified himself from serving. "I can easily imagine that some [internal affairs] corporal working his first case took them all down because they all worked together," he said.

"The little snots who took part [in the extortion] were just settling an account. Jacko was the one who went to settle it, and the court found him guilty. The others were just along for the ride, which is why the court found them innocent."

Pecko has refused to discuss the case.

However, a police officer who served with him said that he was an "honourable" policeman being set up by disgruntled subordinates.

"Everyone makes mistakes in their lives, and Pecko really regretted what he had done," the source said. "He spent the last 12 years of his career trying to make up for it.

"He is an uncompromising and honourable officer who has made himself deeply unpopular with his subordinates in the Anti-Drug Unit by bringing in tighter checks on overtime, and by insisting on better results."

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