Banská Bystrica mob boss Mikuláš Černák was sentenced to eight and a half years for extortion. However, due to insufficient evidence, earlier kidnapping and murder convictions were sent back to regional court.
A February 7 ruling by the Slovak Supreme Court found the crime boss guilty of extortion, and sentenced him to eight and a half years, beginning from his 1997 incarceration.
But the court sent the murder and kidnapping cases back to the Banská Bystrica regional court, which in January 2000 had handed Černák a 15 year sentence, and convicted him of all three charges. Černák had appealed that verdict to the Supreme Court.
Citing a lack of evidence, the Supreme Court ruled that the charges would have to be re-tried in the central Slovak city.
Although Černák's prison term may ultimately be cut short, Slovak police and legal officials called the decision a success, saying it served as a warning that organised crime would not be tolerated in Slovakia.
"This ruling was a victory for the Slovak judiciary," enthused Daniel Lipšic, head of office at the Justice Ministry. "Remember how arrogant Černák was back in 1997? He came to the Banská Bystrica police station by himself and gave himself over because he thought he was above the law and that nothing could ever happen to him."
Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner was also visibly pleased with the ruling. "This decision shows that in Slovakia, the trees don't grow to heaven for the Mafia."
Along with the back-patting, however, questions remained over the police's handling of their star witness, Alexander H., who twice recanted his testimony during the appeals case.
After testifying that Černák had in 1996 kidnapped and killed Polish businessman Grzegor Szymanek in the initial court case, the witness then said that Štefan Fabian, a mob member from Košice who has since been murdered, had been the culprit.
Alexander H. explained in court that he had pinned the murder on Černák because rival mob bosses had pressured him into doing so, threatening otherwise to murder his wife and child, neither of whom had been placed under police protection. Magda Krasulová, from the Chief Investigator's Office in Bratislava, said that Alexander H. had refused police protection for his family.
The day after he changed his testimony, police arrested Alexander H. for perjury. He then changed his testimony back again, saying that Černák had indeed committed the murder, but that parties close to the mobster, as well as Alexander H.'s own lawyer Štefan J., had convinced him to pin the blame on Štefan Fabian.
Police then revealed that they had been in possession since June 2000 of a videotape of Štefan J. trying to persuade the witness to change his testimony. On the tape, the lawyer suggests that Alexander H. demand 10 million Slovak crowns ($213,000) from Černák as payment for recanting.
Although police said the prosecutor knew about the tape, the Justice Ministry's Lipšic accused the police of wrongly withholding the tape until Alexander H. changed his testimony.
"They should have given the tape to the prosecutor, not just told him about it," he said. "Had the prosecutor had the tape from the outset, Alexander H.'s testimony would have been more valuable."
Police officials, however, maintained that they had proceeded correctly. Krasulová said that "the police had to wait until Alexander H. changed his testimony [before using the tape as evidence]. The fact that somebody had attempted to lead him to falsely testify did not yet make Alexander H. guilty of perjury."
She added that, in her opinion, the police actions had not resulted in the kidnapping and murder charges being returned to the regional court.
Peter Krajčovič, the Head of the Supreme Court Senate, said that the charges had to be re-tried because they "lacked sufficient evidence."
"The fact is that apart from the testimony of Alexander H., that was not enough evidence to substantiate the charges of murder and kidnapping," Krajčovič told The Slovak Spectator February 13. "I had objections to the evidence available regarding the murder and kidnapping."
With the case returning to Banská Bystrica, new concerns have arisen over Alexander H., who has refused police protection because he says he feels "threatened by his police protectors," said Krasulová. "And we can not force him or his family to accept police protection if they don't want it."
According to Alexander H.'s testimony, two mob bosses named Róbert Holub and Štefan Fabián had been present at the murder of the Polish national. Both men were murdered in September, 1997, gunned down in Bratislava's Hotel Danube.
Fabián died immediately; Holub was transported to Kramáre hospital. Days later, while being treated for his wounds, he was machine-gunned through the window of his room by a sniper who had climbed the roof as Fabián lay in his hospital bed.
Alexander H. was also attacked on March 6, 1998, prompting police to take the only remaining living witness to the Szymanek murder (besides Černák) into protective custody.
"Alexander H.'s life might now be in danger," said Pavol Rohárik, the former head of the Slovak Association of Judges. "I don't know why he has refused the protection. But it's true that the police cannot force him to accept protection."
Zdena Cabanová, Deputy Chief Justice at the Banská Bystrica regional court, said the case was expected to re-open in the second half of March. Lipšic said he expected the re-trial to last a few months, but independent lawyers have said that it could take far longer.
"This [re-trial] could take another 100 years," said Bratislava lawyer Ernest Valko. "I don't know all the evidence there, but if the regional court discovers that the cases aren't strong enough, it might have to turn to the police for more evidence. Collecting evidence in such difficult cases as this one is very complicated and can take ages."