EDITORIAL

Majský jailed: No applause before the curtain drops

IT IS TEMPTING to see the arrest of businessman Jozef Majský as a sign that times are changing in Slovakia - that even wealthy rogues can be brought to justice, and that even the most intricate frauds will not go unpunished.
We should resist the temptation, however. Not only must we presume Majský innocent of the charges - fraud and racketeering in connection with the disastrous spring 2002 collapse of a pyramid fund scheme - but we must remember he has so far only been remanded in custody. The road to his eventual trial and a verdict will be long, and full of incentives for justice to falter.


THE PUBLIC will be watching organized-crime fighters to see if the Majský case ever gets to trial.
photo: TASR

IT IS TEMPTING to see the arrest of businessman Jozef Majský as a sign that times are changing in Slovakia - that even wealthy rogues can be brought to justice, and that even the most intricate frauds will not go unpunished.

We should resist the temptation, however. Not only must we presume Majský innocent of the charges - fraud and racketeering in connection with the disastrous spring 2002 collapse of a pyramid fund scheme - but we must remember he has so far only been remanded in custody. The road to his eventual trial and a verdict will be long, and full of incentives for justice to falter.

We should also note that Majský's business extravagances - his boasted bribery of state officials, his financing of political parties, his failure to pay debts to the state - have been known for over a decade, but until this year have not resulted in police action.

Perhaps only coincidentally, the charges related to Majský's alleged role in the Horizont and BMG failures in February came at the same time his political allegiance seemed to switch to the opposition HZDS party of Vladimír Mečiar. After giving the parties of the first Dzurinda government what he called "extraordinary" aid that was of "fundamental importance" in their 1998 election victory, Majský less than four years later secured the entry of his wife Diana Dubovská to the election ticket of the HZDS. He also apparently secured a promise from Mečiar to bail out the pyramid fund clients in the event the HZDS entered government again. It's perhaps cynical, but not entirely unfair, to ask whether Majský's fate would have been different if he had more publicly backed the parties of the current government before the September 2002 elections.

Another fact to bear in mind is that both the pyramid schemes, and the alleged plot to undermine them, were frauds of the crudest variety. Despite the fact they had no license to receive deposits, in the manner of banks, funds like Horizont and BMG promised up to 40 per cent annual interest to their clients, and clearly were only going to be able to continue for as long as they attracted new gullible customers. Once they started to get into trouble, a fictional US firm allegedly sold them a worthless claim against Slovak Telecom and made off with untold remaining assets, including a building on Dunajská Street in Bratislava that now bears the nameplate of one of Majský's companies.

In other words, it's not as if the police have exposed a complicated operation here, no matter how difficult it may have been eventually to get the proof they needed. Corruption, however, tends to be far more sophisticated in Slovakia these days, with several 'cut-outs' between the payers and recipients of bribes, or contracts between privatisers of state assets and firms that 'intermediate' their future sales for a fee that trickles back to the state officials who approved the deals. Taking on such crime will require extraordinary tactics and resources far greater than those used to ensnare the bumbling BMG gang.

It is also worth looking back to the early months of the 1998-2002 Dzurinda cabinet, and count how many scoundrels that government either jailed or threatened to collar, mostly for crimes related to privatisation under the previous Mečiar government. And then count how many were actually convicted (the answer is zero, at least among the big fish).

Still, for all the caveats, Majský is certainly the wealthiest Slovak citizen to wear stripes so far, and the BMG/Horizont crash one of the most costly corporate failures in Slovak history. If the courts and police can secure a conviction here, especially one involving some big names, they will go a long way towards proving Slovakia has changed, and that political friends and breathtaking insolence are no longer sufficient to keep crooks out of jail.

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