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Ukraine mafia on rise - Minister

A mafia group from the Ukraine, known as 'The Syndicate,' is spreading its tendrils across the world and is already well-established in neighbouring countries like Slovakia, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner claimed at a press conference on June 7.
Pittner reported that Slovak border police had stopped a car carrying an undisclosed number of Ukrainian nationals on Slovak soil on May 20. In the trunk of the car, he said, were discovered three boxes of files proving the extent to which the Ukraine mafia had infiltrated Slovak political and economic structures.
"The first of these boxes [discovered in the car] contained downloaded Internet documents, including the FNM's [Slovak state privatisation agency's] list of privatised firms," Pittner said. "In the second were the names of attractive Slovak firms like Baňa Zahorie [Zahorie Mines] and so on, and in the third, we found written in Cyrillic [the Ukrainian alphabet] the names of people like HZDS party deputy Peter Baco, his son-in-law, a certain singer and so on."


Burials of mafia victims - like the January interment of former Economy Minister Ján Ducký, shown above - are becoming more common.
photo:TASR

A mafia group from the Ukraine, known as 'The Syndicate,' is spreading its tendrils across the world and is already well-established in neighbouring countries like Slovakia, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner claimed at a press conference on June 7.

Pittner reported that Slovak border police had stopped a car carrying an undisclosed number of Ukrainian nationals on Slovak soil on May 20. In the trunk of the car, he said, were discovered three boxes of files proving the extent to which the Ukraine mafia had infiltrated Slovak political and economic structures.

"The first of these boxes [discovered in the car] contained downloaded Internet documents, including the FNM's [Slovak state privatisation agency's] list of privatised firms," Pittner said. "In the second were the names of attractive Slovak firms like Baňa Zahorie [Zahorie Mines] and so on, and in the third, we found written in Cyrillic [the Ukrainian alphabet] the names of people like HZDS party deputy Peter Baco, his son-in-law, a certain singer and so on."

No further details of the documents were revealed, but Pittner said that his ministry had ascertained that 'The Syndicate' already had a contact in Slovakia - Aljoš T. - and that the Ukraine underworld group had "probably" been in contact with the Slovak secret sevice, the SIS, during the previous government of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.

A reaction was not long in coming from Baco, who served as Agriculture Minister under the 1994-1998 Mečiar government. "I feel hurt by the accusations that Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner made against me on Monday," he said in a statement published on June 8. "Neither I nor my family have been in contact with Ukrainians." Baco added that he would pursue the matter in the courts.

HZDS spokesman Marian Kardoš told The Slovak Spectator on June 9 that "the HZDS sees these accusations as an attempt of the present government to discredit the opposition." Kardoš promised a further reaction from senior HZDS politiccians on June 14, and vowed "this isn't the end of this matter.."


Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said "The Syndicate" is growing stronger.
photo: TASR

Mafia problems

On the same day that Pittner delivered his charges, a reputed Slovak mafia boss from the northern Slovak town of Dubnica nad Váhom was gunned down by a masked assailant wielding an Israeli-make Uzi submachine gun. The daily newspaper Sme reported that the victim, Jozef K., had recently been trying to reduce the influence of the Ukrainian mob in his area.

The June 7 murder is not the only recent case involving Ukrainian criminals in Slovakia that the Interior Ministry is investigating. Jailed Ukraine national Oleg T., who was charged on May 31 with the January murder of Ján Ducký, Mečiar's Economy Minister, has yet to reveal who paid for the assassination. But according to Pittner, "we could say hypothetically that it was The Syndicate [which ordered the Ducký assassination]."

Pittner said that his ministry had discovered "blank cheques" signed by Ducký and drawn against the Slovak state gas monopoly SPP, which Ducký had directed from 1997 to 1998. The cheques were being pursued as a motive in the Ducký killing, he said. "Unfortunately, these cheques are being traded abroad, and were signed by Ducký for billions of Slovak crowns. They come due in September and October. It is not just by chance that some politicians say that Slovakia will come to an end in the fall."

Also under investigation for his contacts with the Ukraine underworld is Pavol Rusko, director of the private TV station Markíza. Pittner said in late May that Rusko had "some explaining to do" as to why documents bearing his name and that of Oleg T. were found in the house of Ivan M., the reputed Ukraine mafia boss from the village of Ivanka pri Dunaj.

Rusko appeared before police without a lawyer late on June 7 to explain his side of the case. He agreed with police not to discuss the case, and refused an interview with The Slovak Spectator on June 8.

A police official with the OPA special tactics squad, which is under the Interior Ministry's jurisdiction, told The Slovak Spectator on June 9 that internal corruption was seriously hampering the fight against the mafia. "Secret co-operation between criminals and policemen, especially in the regions, is a huge problem in the fight against organised crime. That's just reality."

Wider implications

According to Pittner, the Ukraine Syndicate comprises some 25,000 members in Europe, Asia and America. The reputed head of the criminal organisation is a former sport coach and the current president of one of Ukraine's sport associations, as well as an honorary citizen of an American city.

"This boss has two deputies," claimed Pittner. "One of them is Ruslan S., the first vice-president of an American company based in the Ukraine, and the other is president of an American company doing business in the Ukraine. The Syndicate is active in areas like banks, machinery factories, hotel chains and sport, as well as in illegal areas like bribing politicians and typical criminal acts."

Pittner added that The Syndicate has very close connections to the Russian gas company Gazprom, and works with international firms like Pepsi, General Motors and Motorola in the Ukraine itself. It is staffed principally by former employees of intelligence services like the Russian KGB, the Ukrainian SBU, the East German Stasi and the olf Czechoslovak ŠtB.

Diplomatic solution

Officials from the Slovak Foreign and Interior Ministries are currently investigating the possibility of installing a visa regime against the Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian citizens at the moment are permitted to visit Slovakia for 30 days without special travel documents.

A Ukrainian diplomat with the Ukraine embassy in Bratislava, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Slovak Spectator on June 8 that the embassy had no information as to the charges levelled by Pittner, and that it had requested a meeting with the Interior Minister. The diplomat also said he had not been informed that a visa regime for Ukraine was being prepared.

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