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TWO FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS ARRESTED IN KOVÁČ CASE

Investigation implicates two HZDS deputies

Parliament will decide by the end of this week whether to strip parliamentary immunity from two top officials in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar - one for his alleged involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of the son of former Slovak President Michal Kováč, and the other for "abuse of power and fraud" in conjunction with the botched 1997 NATO and presidential referendum.
The officials in question, former Slovak Intelligence Sevice director Ivan Lexa and former Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči, are currently oppostion deputies in Mečiar's HZDS party. They are the highest former Mečiar allies to be implicated in criminal wrongdoing to date in widening investigations of the former government by the current administration.


On tenterhooks. Parliament will decide in the second week of February whether do strip former secret service boss Ivan Lexa (right) and former Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči (centre) of their parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
photo: TASR

Parliament will decide by the end of this week whether to strip parliamentary immunity from two top officials in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar - one for his alleged involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of the son of former Slovak President Michal Kováč, and the other for "abuse of power and fraud" in conjunction with the botched 1997 NATO and presidential referendum.

The officials in question, former Slovak Intelligence Sevice director Ivan Lexa and former Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči, are currently oppostion deputies in Mečiar's HZDS party. They are the highest former Mečiar allies to be implicated in criminal wrongdoing to date in widening investigations of the former government by the current administration.

On February 1, the Interior Ministry said it would ask parliament to strip the two deputies of the immunity from prosecution they enjoy as members of parliament.

"In the coming days, the investigator will ask parliament for permission to press charges against Ivan Lexa, who is suspected of criminal acts concerning abuse of power, and against Gustáv Krajči, on suspicion of criminal acts in thwarting the referendum [on NATO membership and direct presidential elections in 1997], abuse of power and fraud," said Jaroslav Ivor, head of the Interior Ministry Investigation Section at a press conference.

The Interior Ministry also announced the first arrests by the Slovak police in the kidnapping of Kováč Jr., who was force-fed alcohol, thrown in a car trunk and dumped over the Austrian border in August 1995. Ivor also said that police had arrested two former senior SIS officers, Jaroslav S. and Robert B., on charges that they coordinated the Kováč Jr. kidnapping. Ivor explained that the suspects were remanded in custody because of "the threat that they would mar the investigation procedure by influencing other convicts or witnesses."

Opposition protests

The vigorous investigations and their findings have provoked outcries of a witch-hunt from the HZDS oppostion.

"This government acts like Zorro - the avenger," said Marián Púchovský, HZDS parliamentary caucus spokesman. "The [upcoming parliamentary] vote on immunity is just a dress rehearsal for a great show, which will be the ceremonial abolition of the HZDS party," Púchovský said. "We have information that there are certain [political] interests that intend to erase the movement from the political scene. When the time comes, we will reveal concrete details."

Lexa, for his part, told the daily paper Sme that "I know that MP's won't vote according to their consciences. The coalition has 93 votes. In ten minutes, anyone's immunity can be stripped."

Just cause?

But the ruling coalition stood behind its actions as those of a responsible government.

"The charges raised against Krajči and Lexa are the natural consequences of what happened in Slovakia in the last few years," said Ivan Šimko, a deputy for the ruling SDK party. "Let specific people face these charges, whether they are politicians or not," Šimko told The Slovak Spectator.

A legal analyst agreed."This is the way it works in democratic states. If someone committed a crime, he has to be punished," said Katarína Závacká, an analyst at the State and Law Department of the Slovak Academy of Science.

Under the Slovak constitution, parliamentary deputies cannot be prosecuted for any crime while in office - even murder - until a majority vote by parliament lifts their immunity. Závacká explained that parliamentary immunity should only relate to political delinquency, to secure deputies the right to express their political opinions without the threat of prosecution.

"Here [in Slovakia] the parliamentary immunity of deputies is considered as absolute, but it should not protect them from being convicted of criminal acts. If someone is proven guilty, it's his personal responsibility," she said.

Story background

The abduction of Kováč Jr., whose father was an arch political adversary of Mečiar's cabinet, was one of the biggest political scandals in post-communist eastern Europe and provoked outrage in Slovakia and shock abroad.

In August 1995, Kováč Jr. was seized by masked men, force-fed whisky, given electric shocks, dumped in the boot of a car and driven to neighbouring Austria. A Viennese regional court said at the time that the Slovak state authorities might have been behind the kidnapping. Later in 1995, two senior Slovak police investigators were withdrawn from the case after saying that the SIS had arranged the abduction.

Krajči was accused of abusing his powers as Interior Minister by marring the May 1997 referendum initiated by former President Michal Kováč. Krajči's ministry had distributed ballots which omitted a crucial question on direct presidential elections. In February 1998 the Constitutional Court issued a decision stating that the Interior Minstry had marred the referendum and thus violated the constitutional rights of Slovak citizens.

Outrage at the kidnapping and the thwarting of the referendum was heightened when Mečiar extended amnesties in March 1998 to prevent any future legal proceedings against those involved in both cases. Investigations into both cases were re-opened in December 1998 when new Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda revised the amnesty clause.

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