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INTERIOR MINISTRY SAYS IT WILL FILE CHARGES SOON

Mečiar may testify in Kováč Jr. case

Former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar may have to answer question about the 1995 kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr., the son of his former rival, after parliament decides on August 24 whether or not he can testify in the case.
The latest chapter in the highly politicised kidnapping investigation, began August 16 when Jaroslav Ivor, director of the investigation department at the Interior Ministry, announced that kidnapping investigators wanted Mečiar and former President Michal Kováč to testify in the case.
Ivor added that the investigation phase of the kidnapping case was nearing its end, and that charges would soon be filed against those suspected of involvement.

Former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar may have to answer question about the 1995 kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr., the son of his former rival, after parliament decides on August 24 whether or not he can testify in the case.

The latest chapter in the highly politicised kidnapping investigation, began August 16 when Jaroslav Ivor, director of the investigation department at the Interior Ministry, announced that kidnapping investigators wanted Mečiar and former President Michal Kováč to testify in the case.

Ivor added that the investigation phase of the kidnapping case was nearing its end, and that charges would soon be filed against those suspected of involvement.

Keeping mum

A parliamentary vote is required before either Mečiar or Kováč Sr. can be questioned, because they are legally obliged to keep silent about classified information they obtained in their former positions.

"Every person who encounters classified information during the performance of his job is forbidden to pass it on to anyone else, even after he leaves his position," said Interior Ministry spokesman Jozef Sitár.

According to Ivan Šimko, a deputy and legal expert for the ruling coalition SDK party, a simple majority of ballots cast by deputies present for the vote will suffice to lift the legal gag order on both men. He explained that "the vow of silence is an obligation which can be lifted from a person if a crime is being investigated, or whenever information becomes declassified."

It is parliament which must relieve both Mečiar and Kováč of their obligations to remain silent because it was parliament which named the two men to their former positions, Šimko said.

Ivor said that Mečiar's testimony was "indispensible because of his former status and function in relation to the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), whose officers are suspected of committing several serious crimes." He added that being asked to testify does not officially implicate the former prime minister in wrongdoing.

But Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has taken offence at the notion that their leader should be linked in any way with the crime. The HZDS, the largest opposition party in parliament, strictly refutes all allegations that Mečiar was involved in the Kováč Jr. kidnapping.

"Slovak chief investigator Jaroslav Ivor and his colleagues found themselves trapped with a lack of evidence, and thus they are trying to make Vladimír Mečiar testify in association with the kidnapping of Kováč Jr.," said HZDS deputy O1/4ga Keltošová at an August 17 press conference.

"There is absolutely no connection between the former prime minister and those who committed the kidnapping," she said.

Former President Kováč is being asked to testify because others involved have said the kidnapping was prompted by the political clash between the former president and Mečiar, Ivor said. Kováč was also the one who announced the kidnapping of his son to the police.

The prime investigation target in the case to date has been the former director of the SIS under Mečiar, Ivan Lexa. After Lexa's immunity from prosecution (which he enjoyed as an MP for the HZDS) was lifted from him by parliament, he was taken into pre-trial custody for fear that he would try to intimidate witnesses in the case. He was released July 19 after a controversial Bratislava Regional Court decision.

Ivor said last week that Lexa is now suspected of committing another crime involving abuse of power and fraud worth several million Slovak crowns.

Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský has lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court to cancel the Regional Court's decision and put Lexa back in custody. Čarnogurský claims that several important witnesses have yet to be interrogated, and that it was therefore inappropriate to release Lexa from jail.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabín said August 17 that the high court would rule on the appeal within three months, and would not comment on it in the meantime.

Kováč Jr., son of Slovak President Michal Kováč, was kidnapped by unknown assailants in 1995. He was forced to drink hard liquor, tied up and thrown into the boot of a car, driven across the Slovak border to Austria and dumped in front of a police station.

An investigation begun by the Mečiar government was tabled for lack of evidence in 1996, but the case was kept alive by domestic critics and western diplomats, who cited the kidnapping in criticising Slovakia's "democracy deficit" under Mečiar.

With press reports

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