Former secret service chief Ivan Lexa was released from pre-trial custody by the Supreme Court last Friday, in a decision upholding complaints by Lexa’s lawyers that he had been illegally incarcerated following his July deportation from hiding in South Africa.
The decision was immediately attacked by legal experts and government politicians including Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský, who called it “encouragement for criminals of every stripe.”
Lexa, who served as the chief of the SIS secret service from 1995-1998 under former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, faces eight charges in Slovakia including fraud, corruption, theft, sabotage, aiding and abetting criminals, kidnapping and armed robbery.
He is suspected of organising some of the most infamous crimes committed under the 1994-1998 Mečiar government, including the kidnapping and torture of the former president’s son, Michal Kováč Jr., and planting a bomb at a political rally of the Christian Democrats party.
Based on these crimes and other events that occurred under the Mečiar administration, western diplomats have said Slovakia may not be admitted to Nato and the European Union if Mečiar returns to power after September elections.
But a three-member Supreme Court ‘senate’ of judges decided on August 16 that the lower court judge who had approved Lexa’s remanding in custody had been biased against him.
It was the second time Lexa had been released from pre-trial custody. In 1999 the former spy boss was released from jail after three months when a court decided the reasons for keeping there had expired. Lexa fled the country in 2000 and spent two years in hiding before being arrested at a luxury resort near Durban
The Supreme Court judges who issued the decision, as well as Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabín, left the court quietly without explaining their verdict. Čarnogurský accused the senate of having been “already decided to release Ivan Lexa”.
Other legal branch officials accused the senate of having been biased in Lexa’s favour. In May this year senate head Štefan Minárik was nominated by Ján Cuper from the opposition HZDS party, of which Lexa is also a member, to the national Judicial Council.
Under the communist regime Minárik also sentenced at least three people to jail for ‘activities against the state’, while fellow senate member Harold Stiffel sentenced a Catholic priest to prison, according to the Sme daily paper.
In records of former ŠtB secret police agents and collaborators placed on the Internet, which the head of the Office for the Documentation of Communist Crimes, Marián Gula, has confirmed as authentic, Ivan Lexa appears as a collaborator under the code name “Alex”.
The files also contains the name of collaborator Štefan Minárik (‘the Lawyer’) and Vladimír Mečiar (‘the Doctor’).
Justice experts warn that people listed in the files may not always be identical with those now in public life, even in cases such as Mečiar’s and Lexa’s when dates of birth are identical, and that people listed as ‘collaborators’ were sometimes innocent of active cooperation with the ŠtB.
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, who called the Supreme Court verdict “shameful”, said courts were already preparing to request Lexa’s remanding in custody on other charges he faces.
“Interpol looked for him [Lexa] for almost two years, they found him with a false passport, but a Supreme Court justice says ‘nothing happened’,” said Béla Bugár, deputy speaker of parliament.
Lexa, however, said in an interview with the Nový Deň opposition daily, that “I’m glad I kept my mind in that torture house [pre-trial custody]” and added that he had felt like “the prisoner of Ján Čarnogurský and Mikuláš Dzurinda.
“I was jailed for entirely political reasons. I was kidnapped from South Africa. I’ll go into details later.”
Compiled by Tom Nicholson from press reports.
The Slovak Spectator cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information presented in its Flash News postings.
19. Aug 2002 at 12:46