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THWARTED REFERENDUM, KOVÁČ KIDNAPPING TO BE INVESTIGATED

Revised amnesties open old wounds

A controversial revision of the terms of two amnesties has opened the door to an investigation of two of Slovakia's most notorious crimes - the Interior Ministry's thwarting of a 1997 nationwide referendum and the mysterious 1995 abduction of Michal Kováč Jr., son of the country's former president.
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda, in a decision hotly debated by legal experts, elected on December 8 to revise the terms of two amnesties conferred on the perpetrators of these two crimes by his predecessor, ex-Premier Vladimír Mečiar. While constitutional law analysts said the Premier was on shaky legal ground, Dzurinda himself appealed to higher principles in explaining his acts.


A painful reminder. Secret service informant Robert Remiaš was killed in 1995 when his BMW was destroyed by a powerful explosive. Remiaš was the contact person for another secret service informer who claimed to have information linking the service to the kidnapping of the former president's son, Michal Kováč Jr. He remains the most stirring symbol of unsolved high-level crimes in Slovakia.
Nový Čas

A controversial revision of the terms of two amnesties has opened the door to an investigation of two of Slovakia's most notorious crimes - the Interior Ministry's thwarting of a 1997 nationwide referendum and the mysterious 1995 abduction of Michal Kováč Jr., son of the country's former president.

Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda, in a decision hotly debated by legal experts, elected on December 8 to revise the terms of two amnesties conferred on the perpetrators of these two crimes by his predecessor, ex-Premier Vladimír Mečiar. While constitutional law analysts said the Premier was on shaky legal ground, Dzurinda himself appealed to higher principles in explaining his acts.

"With my decision I'm trying to open the door of justice and defend the citizens' interests," Dzurinda told a press conference. "My decision opens up possibilities for the police and the prosecution to investigate the cases."

Dzurinda said that he had not been motivated by personal animosity towards either former Slovak secret service boss Ivan Lexa, whose agents investigated in 1995 for their roles in the kidnapping, or former Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči, who was found guilty of wrongdoing in the referendum in February 1998.

Mečiar issued amnesties in the kidnapping and referendum cases on March 3, 1998, and then extended their terms on July 7, using powers inherited from his political foe, President Michal Kováč, who left office on March 2. The amnesties stipulated "not to start, and if started to halt" any criminal proceedings on the Kováč Jr. kidnapping and the referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections of May 23-24, 1997.

Legal straitjacket

Many legal analysts said that amnesties, once conferred, could not be retracted whether they were perceived to be good or bad. "The constitutionality of the amnesty adjustment is at least doubtful," said Eduard Barány, director of the State and Law Department at the Slovak Academy of Science. Barány explained that revising or cancelling an amnesty "doesn't conform with the legal state, regardless of whether the amnesty serves justice. We shouldn't expect too much justice from the law."

According to Barány, the Constitutional Court will have the final word on the validity of Dzurida's decision because the amnesty revisions were in conflict with the Constitution's first article which reads that Slovakia is governed by the rule of law.

That is also the line taken by the country's political opposition, Mečiar's HZDS party and the far right Slovak National Party (SNS). Both parties have promised to appeal Dzurinda's decision to the Constitutional Court, with HZDS deputy Imrich Andrejčák claiming that "Mr. Dzurinda dared to do something which no other politician has ever dared to do."

Evidence is mounting to suggest that an appeal may be successful. Richard Rapant, a Constitutional Court judge, told the independent SITA agency that "although the amnesty announced by Vladimír Mečiar, as well as its [July 7] correction, had serious constitutional, ethical and legislative defects, there was, unfortunately, no constitutional reason to apply the [revision] proceedings the way Premier Mikuláš Dzurida did."

Rapant stressed that according to the Constitution, "the Slovak president has no right to cancel or exclude a part of an amnesty [issued by another person]." He said that Dzurinda, had he wanted the cases investigated and resolved, could have pushed through a constitutional law modifying the amnesties. "[With the amnesty revision] it's as if a certain group of political parties or politicians declared a different constitution or a different legal framework," Rapant added.

Moral imperatives

On the other side of the coin, lawyers and governmental officials supported Dzurinda's decision, saying that it was the only way in which the truth of the cases could be revealed and those guilty of crimes convicted and punished.

Minister of Justice Ján Čarnogurský said that "the amnesty issued by Mečiar was unusual and therefore Dzurinda's decision was also exceptional." According to Čarnogurský, Mečiar's amnesty had prevented legal bodies from getting to the bottom of the marred referendum and the Kováč abduction, which "was socially unacceptable."

Ernest Valko, a well-known Bratislava attorney, agreed that the moral aspect of the amnesty question should win out over legal nitpicking. "Someone broke the law, and what are we supposed to say - that there's nothing we can do?" asked Valko. "If the amnesty does not serve its basic purposes, including public welfare and justice, it is no good and should be changed."

With moral conviction on its side, the Interior Ministry is set to begin investigating the cases as of January 1999. At a December 14 press conference, the ministry investigation section director, Jaroslav Ivor, said that "with respect to the findings of the [previous] investigations, and additional information that appeared after the [Mečiar] amnesty, there is evidence which requires further criminal proceedings."

Mečiar's justification for the amnesties was the absence of any indication of criminal wrongdoing in either case.

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