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Second SIS investigator taken off Kováč Jr. case

The culprits who kidnapped Slovak President Michal Kováč's son, Michal Jr., can perhaps sleep a little easier: The chief investigator who had said he was on their track, Peter Vačok, has been replaced by Róbert Vlachovský, the prosecutor in charge. Vačok is the second investigator to be pulled off the case. His predecessor, Jaroslav Šimunič, was dismissed in early September after telling journalists he suspected the August 31 abduction had been carried out by the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). Both investigators shared the same opinion, but ran into obstacles when seeking to interrogate SIS employees. The SIS is directed by Ivan Lexa, a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who has been trying to oust President Kováč partly in revenge for the no-confidence vote the president triggered in March 1994.

The culprits who kidnapped Slovak President Michal Kováč's son, Michal Jr., can perhaps sleep a little easier: The chief investigator who had said he was on their track, Peter Vačok, has been replaced by Róbert Vlachovský, the prosecutor in charge.

Vačok is the second investigator to be pulled off the case. His predecessor, Jaroslav Šimunič, was dismissed in early September after telling journalists he suspected the August 31 abduction had been carried out by the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). Both investigators shared the same opinion, but ran into obstacles when seeking to interrogate SIS employees.

The SIS is directed by Ivan Lexa, a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who has been trying to oust President Kováč partly in revenge for the no-confidence vote the president triggered in March 1994.

Lexa repeatedly turned down police requests for testimonies from SIS employees. Instead, he asked the prosecutor general to start legal action against Vačok and two other investigators. Among other things, Lexa accused them of trying to bribe SIS officials into providing false testimony to pin the kidnapping on the SIS.

In a statement to the state-run news agency, Vlachovský, the prosecutor, wrote that Vačok is suspected of having committed an unspecified criminal act and that Vačok must be called off "in the interest of an objective and unbiased investigation." But President Kováč, for one, has called Vačok's removal "the result of very strong political pressures." He went so far as to say, "I have no doubts about the participation of SIS director and Mečiar ally Ivan Lexa in the kidnapping of my son."

Vačok was yanked just days after Mečiar predicted it would happen at a political rally in Banská Bystrica. "Those investigators who promised that they could solve things differently are being withdrawn from the case," Mečiar told supporters on October 11.

Mečiar's clairvoyant prognostication raised questions for some political commentators. "How the prime minister knew what the politically independent prosecution was going to do remains a mystery," wrote Marián Leško, a columnist for the daily Pravda.

Stanislav Háber, a spokesman for Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), said he did not attend the rally, had no knowledge of Mečiar's remarks, and therefore would not comment on them.

Before Vačok's dismissal, opposition deputies initiated a special parliamentary session to discuss SIS-police tensions, which arose since the kidnapping. Both Lexa and Ján Hudek, the minister of the interior, would have been questioned at the session. But the session lasted only seven minutes as coalition deputies voted against the agenda.

Mečiar, who rarely attends parliament, sat through the session with a big smile on his face. "All has gone well," he told the press cheerfully as he rushed out of the hall surrounded by bodyguards after the vote.

"It is no surprise they voted against it," Róbert Fico of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) said afterwards. "All the truth would come out and they had to prevent that from happening."

Fico said the opposition has enough information about the kidnapping to be certain the SIS was behind it. "But we can't prove anything, we can only try to make sure the police can do their job properly," he said.

Ján Čarnogurský, chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), said the opposition has information from investigators who are enraged by "the arrogance of the SIS director toward the police, the fact that the minister of the interior does not protect the police, and the fact that it is all being supported by the government."

"The law does not function the way it is supposed to, so the police see no other choice than to provide the information to the opposition," said Čarnogurský, who then added that he personally had no evidence that the SIS was involved in the kidnapping.

"But there is enough evidence in the police files," he said. He also said he does not believe the kidnapping investigation can be concluded under Mečiar's government. "I guarantee you that if Mečiar falls during the next ten years, the culprits will be arrested within a week," Čarnogurský said. He then noted that under Slovak law, criminals cannot be prosecuted more than ten years after allegedly committing certain crimes.

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