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FORMER SECRET SERVICE CHIEF RELEASED BY SUPREME COURT AFTER HAVING BEEN DEPORTED FROM SOUTH AFRICA TO FACE 10 CHARGES

Lexa again freed from custody

IVAN Lexa, the former Slovak secret service (SIS) chief who faces 10 charges including alleged involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of former president's son, smiled and flashed a victory sign to journalists as he left pre-trial custody on August 16.
Lexa was released following a Supreme Court ruling that a lower court judge had been biased in taking Lexa into custody last month after he was deported to Slovakia from South Africa after two years in hiding. The panel of judges who issued the decision added the lower judge had not been authorised to rule on jailing Lexa.
It was the second time Lexa has been released from pre-trial custody in three years; in 2000, after a court ruled the reasons for his remaining in custody had expired, Lexa fled the country pursued by an international Interpol warrant for his arrest.


IVAN Lexa was pleased to be released from prison, where he was being held pending trial on 10 charges.
photo: Pravda - Roman Benický

IVAN Lexa, the former Slovak secret service (SIS) chief who faces 10 charges including alleged involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of former president's son, smiled and flashed a victory sign to journalists as he left pre-trial custody on August 16.

Lexa was released following a Supreme Court ruling that a lower court judge had been biased in taking Lexa into custody last month after he was deported to Slovakia from South Africa after two years in hiding. The panel of judges who issued the decision added the lower judge had not been authorised to rule on jailing Lexa.

It was the second time Lexa has been released from pre-trial custody in three years; in 2000, after a court ruled the reasons for his remaining in custody had expired, Lexa fled the country pursued by an international Interpol warrant for his arrest.

While government officials reacted with anger to the court's ruling, which they said would encourage disrespect for the law, Lexa himself said justice had been served.

"I was imprisoned for clearly political reasons," Lexa said in an interview with the Nový deň opposition daily shortly after his release (see excerpt of the interview on page 9).

"I felt like a prisoner of [Justice Minister] Ján Čarnogurský and [Prime Minister] Mikuláš Dzurinda," said Lexa, a member of parliament for the Movement for the Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.

Punishing the culprits behind some of the most infamous crimes committed under the 1994-1998 Mečiar government was a key commitment by the Dzurinda administration when it came to power, but a blanket amnesty issued by Mečiar in the kidnapping and a thwarted 1997 referendum on Nato membership has foiled the work of the courts.

Dubbing the Bratislava prison where he spent 28 days since his deportation to Slovakia from South Africa "a torture chamber", Lexa and his lawyers insisted that he would not attempt to flee again.

"He is here and he will face the charges," said Lexa lawyer Juraj Trokan.

That's not the view of some justice officials, however.

"The threat exists that he will avoid criminal proceedings and leave for abroad," said prosecutor Michal Serbin, who oversees all 10 Lexa charges. Serbin proposed that the Bratislava III district court take Lexa back into custody under a charge alleging the misuse of Sk1.2 million ($27,000) in SIS funds.

The district court had not delivered a decision on the proposal by the time The Slovak Spectator went to print.

As Lexa's fate - and future address - remained uncertain, government officials attacked the Supreme Court ruling justices as themselves having been biased in Lexa's favour.

The August 16 Supreme Court decision was issued by a three-member senate composed of justices Štefan Minárik, Harald Stiffel and Ladislav Liščák. The first two served the communist regime as judges before 1989 and sent dissidents to communist jails, while Minárik was earlier this year nominated to the self-ruling judicial authority, the Judicial Council, as a candidate of Lexa's HZDS party.

"The decision gives the impression that the judiciary is literally thwarting the work of dozens of investigators and prosecutors. The decision is a shameful one, and indicates dramatic problems in the judiciary," said PM Dzurinda.

"Lexa will not flee justice," he vowed

Minárik, however, claimed that regional court justice Soňa Smolová, who had issued the decision to take Lexa into custody, had been biased and under pressure because "her direct supervisor [the court's deputy chief justice] Tibor Kubík" had made several statements to the press which the senate considered "grounds for doubting the objectivity of the judge".

The Supreme Court senate also stated that it was not Smolová who should have ruled on the custody, but rather Bratislava I district court justice Miroslav Lehoczký, who had previously issued an international warrant for Lexa's arrest.

Serbin has now proposed Lexa be taken into custody on charges that SIS officer Gejza Valjent allegedly forced a construction company, which had done construction work on his private home, to issue the invoices to the SIS. Lexa, then head of the SIS, allegedly knew of the operation.

Lexa lawyer Trokan dubbed the case "insignificant", comparing it to "charges that Ivan Lexa allegedly discovered in some hallway that somebody is stealing something and didn't say anything. It's ridiculous".

While the country's most popular politician, Smer party leader Robert Fico, said Slovaks had "thousands of more important problems than Lexa", the majority of ruling coalition politicians agreed that the Supreme Court decision was "not normal", in the words of Hungarian Coalition Party leader Béla Bugár.

Mečiar, meanwhile, accused the ruling coalition of trying to find "an executioner, not a judge" for Lexa.

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