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EDITORIAL

The Kováč Jr. kidnapping: Justice may never be done

In late July, the weekly magazine Plus 7 Dní carried an interview with a former senior secret service agent named Jaroslav Svěchota, who has admitted to participating in the 1995 kidnapping of the former Slovak president's son, Michal Kováč Jr. In the interview, Svěchota said that the abduction had not been ordered by the secret service, but by former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.

In late July, the weekly magazine Plus 7 Dní carried an interview with a former senior secret service agent named Jaroslav Svěchota, who has admitted to participating in the 1995 kidnapping of the former Slovak president's son, Michal Kováč Jr. In the interview, Svěchota said that the abduction had not been ordered by the secret service, but by former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.

In a summer of political scuffles and scandals, Svěchota's charges are the hottest potato yet for the governing coalition. Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner has already confirmed that Svěchota's Plus 7 Dní interview was almost identical to the testimony he gave on the Kováč abduction to police investigators. Interior Ministry Chief Investigator Jaroslav Ivor has said that Mečiar will be summoned to give evidence in the case before long. One huge question remains - if the evidence points towards Mečiar's having arranged the Kováč kidnapping, will the former Prime Minister be prosecuted to the full extent of the law?

Not likely. Even if Mečiar did order the kidnapping, it would require a brand of political courage the current government doesn't have to put him behind bars. For in putting the charismatic Mečiar on trial, the coalition would be risking far more than provoking a backlash from the 37% of Slovak citizens who ardently support the former leader. The coalition would very likely be risking the political future of some of its members.

Vladimír Mečiar has been a central figure in Slovak politics almost since he walked on stage after the 1989 revolution. He has led three governments himself, and led the opposition to two others - current Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský's 1992-93 administration, and Jozef Moravčík's short-lived 1994 cabinet. There are probably few Slovak politicians who know more about who privatised what during these years than Mečiar, and few who have better access to compromising material on members of the current government. Was it only the spirit of generosity that moved Čarnogurský last fall to declare he didn't support the idea of prosecuting Mečiar, "the father of independent Slovakia"?

But perhaps the main obstacle to putting Mečiar on trial is the current unreliability of the Slovak court system. Very funny things indeed are going on in the courts these days, things that call into the question both the honesty and competence of judges nationwide.

We have a Poprad Regional Court judge caught red-handed with 16 vials of cocaine and an unregistered weapon, but a Košice Regional Court judge refusing to authorise his arrest; a Bratislava Regional Court judge accused by the police of blackmail and usury, but a Banská Bystrica colleague refusing to permit his imprisonment.

We have had a Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court hacking his way into his Justice Ministry flat with an axe (he hadn't paid rent for years) and assaulting a ministry official, and then blaming "the Jewish lobby" for the ministry's laying charges against him.

We have had a Bratislava Regional Court deciding, for mysterious reasons, to set former secret service boss Ivan Lexa free (Lexa had been in pre-trial custody since April 15 for fear that he would try to influence witnesses in the Kováč Jr. case), and then Justice Minister Čarnogurský appealing the lower court verdict to the Supreme Court. We have had the same Bratislava Regional Court refusing to uphold the government's case against a Mečiar-era privatiser (Vladimír Poór) and then a Supreme Court reversal of the lower court decision.

More to the point where a possible investigation of Mečiar is concerned, the Constitutional Court has produced another of its chaos-inducing 'Doublespeak' verdicts regarding Dzurinda's cancellation of an amnesty issued by Mečiar in the Kováč Jr. case. Mečiar's amnesty had prevented the prosecution of people like Lexa and Svěchota.

One faction of the Constitutional Court, led by Justice Tibor Šafárik, has produced two rulings, to the effect that Dzurinda was not empowered either by the Constitution (as acting President) or by the cabinet (as Prime Minister) to change the terms of the Mečiar amnesty.

Another Constitutional Court group, led by Justice Ján Drgonec, has publicly disagreed with Šafárik's verdicts, calling them logically inconsistent.

If the Kováč Jr. case has already divided judges and courts against each other and produced a handful of legally suspect verdicts, how much more chaos would by stirred up by the prosecution of Vladimír Mečiar? And who will now be able to trust the verdict that any court produces in the Kováč case, whatever its content?

The ruling coalition came to power last fall promising to restore the rule of law and order in Slovakia. It is now abundantly clear that this promise will remain an empty one until Slovakia has a court system that functions independently of politics and delivers verdicts based on legal arguments alone.

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