Licence Commission Chairman Peter Brňo.
Vojtech Pánik, head of the processing industry section at the Economy Ministry and a licence commission member, sits on the supervisory boards of three companies with Economy Ministry licenses to trade military material: ZŤS Dubnica nad Váhom Plus (as of November 29, 1999), ZŤS Tees (as of December 29, 1999) and PPS Detva (as of November 23, 1999). Pánik also sat on the supervisory board of arms trader DMD Trade until October 24, 1999.
František Blanárik, a commission member under both Vladimír Mečiar and Mikluáš Dzurinda's governments, has a seat on the supervisory board of Petina International, a Slovak arms and precious stones trader, since the firm's foundation on September 5 this year.
The Economy Ministry's bilateral relations department head Dagmar Repčeková sits on the supervisory boards of two firms with the Economy Ministry's permission to trade in weapons - ZVS, which has had a license from the day Repčeková joined its supervisory board on February 1, 2000, and DMD Trade, whose board she joined on October 25 this year.
A 1998 law governing trade in military material states: "Employees of state organs who directly participate in the enforcement of this law... may not be either employees or members of the directory or controlling organs of other legal entities which are empowered to conduct business with military material for one year after ending their employment with the state organ."
However, Pánik insisted the law did not mean that sitting members of the licence commission could not hold seats on the boards of arms traders.
"The law doesn't forbid it, and I'm not here to criticise the law," said Pánik. "The law says only when I finish my employment then I am not allowed to be employed by an arms company for one year."
Pánik admitted he earned an unspecified sum of money from his supervisory board roles, but said he had not used his license commission seat to favour the arms traders he was linked to.
"These companies maybe didn't get a license during the whole of this year. What is more, I am only one of several members of the commission, and among these hundreds of cases that we adjudicate only one or two directly affect the companies where I am sitting."
Repčeková, who said she tendered her resignation from the license commission at its last sitting, has thus held a supervisory board role on an arms trader both while and after sitting on the commission.
Bureaucrats with private arms interests are not new to Slovakia. František Kubica, who sat on the license commission under the 1994 to 1998 Mečiar government, has had a seat on the supervisory board of weapons trader Slov-Dio since January 14, 2000.
Army general Leopold Bilčík, who sat on the Mečiar era commission and on the current commission until being recalled on October 10 this year, sat on the board of arms maker DMD Holding from March 8, 1999 to June 13, 2000.
The Slovak Spectator received information from a source close to the arms trade that Blanárik's Petina International had last month concluded an arms deal with a US firm.
Blanárik refused comment on the deal, saying it was a matter for the legal representatives of the company, but said he saw nothing wrong with present or past license commission officials engaging in the arms trade. "It can't be a conflict of interest as long as the law is not broken," he said.
Ernest Valko, former Chief Justice of the Czechoslovak Constitutional Court and now a Bratislava lawyer, said the Labour Code contains an exception allowing some bureaucrats to hold private industry roles.
"State employees are not allowed to be members of supervisory or directory organs of legal entities with business activities, but this doesn't apply if they are sent to these organs by the employer for whom they work.
"It's another question entirely whether bureaucrats in such a position should be members of the arms export license commission. That's a question of ethics," he said.
Pánik defended his private enterprise roles with the assertion he had been dispatched to these firms by the Economy Minister.
Repčeková said she had resigned her commission seat for ethical reasons and a perceived conflict of interest. However, she denied that her seat at arms trader ZVL, which she has held for almost two years, involved the same ethical issues, as she said it had never traded in weapons despite its ministry license to do so.
She added she was waiting for legal clarification of whether it was permissible for license commissioners to hold arms interests.
"It's not logical. I've asked for a legal interpretation. If I can't be in an arms company for one year after I leave the commission, I don't see why I should be allowed to while I work for the government," she said.
Blanarik said that since he had not actually attended a sitting of the commission since leaving his job as director of security and defence at the government office on August 15, 1999, there was nothing stopping him from working for an arms trader.
According to the Economy Ministry press office Blanárik is still officially a member of the commission, however commission chairman and Deputy Economy Minister Peter Brňo denied this.
Blanárik said that the Economy Ministry had not yet submitted a proposal to the cabinet that he be officially recalled.
"I have to laugh because there has been enough time since 1999 for things to move forward. But I don't participate in the work of the commission," he said.
In another apparent lapse, current Deputy Defence Minister Rastislav Káčer was left in the commission's most important seat, the veto-wielding post controlled by the Foreign Ministry, until October 10, almost a year after leaving the ministry.
Brňo said that while Káčer did not strictly have a right to the seat, "in view of his experience and know-how" the Economy Ministry had left him there until the Foreign Ministry's Ivan Korčok replaced him this autumn.
"We didn't have a new decision from the government appointing a replacement for him. Sometimes this process isn't as quick as we would imagine," Brňo said.
While the dual roles of the license commissioners may be legal, western diplomats and arms experts said they could increase concern about Slovakia's weapons control regime in the wake of a United Nations report noting the involvement of a Slovak citizen in arms shipments to Liberia.
The report, published in late October, identified Peter Jusko as part of an arms smuggling network shipping weapons to the embargoed African nation. On December 6, Jusko was arrested and taken into custody, but on December 13 the Banská Bystrica region police confirmed information obtained by The Slovak Spectator that he had been released. Investigators refused to comment further.
A source close to the investigation said that Jusko's activities paled in comparison to the weapons shipments flowing out of the country through legal channels, and that Jusko himself was "a small fish" compared to figures at well-known Slovak arms trading companies with personal links to state officials.
But Brňo denied Slovakia had problems with weapons exports: "Slovakia has these movements of arms under control. I have no doubts here."
17. Dec 2001 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson