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FORMER SECRET SERVICE HEAD IS ACCUSED OF HIRING MAFIA HITMEN TO MURDER RÓBERT REMIÁŠ

Ivan Lexa back in custody

IN AN UNEXPECTED turn, former chief of the Slovak Secret Service (SIS) Ivan Lexa was arrested and charged with ordering a murder, misusing powers, and endangering state secrets.
Interior Minister Vladimír Palko said that Lexa was arrested because sufficient written and testimonial evidence had finally been collected to prove that he ordered the murder of Róbert Remiáš in spring 1996. Former police officer Remiáš acted as the mediator for a key witness in the August 1995 kidnapping of the former president's son, Michal Kováč, Jr.
The key witness, Oskar Fegyveres, who took part in the kidnapping and is currently in hiding abroad, has claimed in the past that the crime was carried out at Lexa's direct order.


CAUGHT in July, freed in August, spy boss Lexa is back in the nick after being arrested in early December.
photo: TASR

IN AN UNEXPECTED turn, former chief of the Slovak Secret Service (SIS) Ivan Lexa was arrested and charged with ordering a murder, misusing powers, and endangering state secrets.

Interior Minister Vladimír Palko said that Lexa was arrested because sufficient written and testimonial evidence had finally been collected to prove that he ordered the murder of Róbert Remiáš in spring 1996. Former police officer Remiáš acted as the mediator for a key witness in the August 1995 kidnapping of the former president's son, Michal Kováč, Jr.

The key witness, Oskar Fegyveres, who took part in the kidnapping and is currently in hiding abroad, has claimed in the past that the crime was carried out at Lexa's direct order.

Minister Palko said Lexa "ordered Michal Sýkora [an influential Bratislava underworld figure who was shot dead in February 1997] to arrange the Remiáš murder in return for at least Sk2 million ($48,000)."

Sýkora then contacted five people, two of whom Palko identified as underworld figures Imrich Oláh and Jozef Roháč, both sought by Interpol, who planted an explosives system and later blew up Remiáš's car, in which former officer burnt to death. The remaining three culprits are unknown.

The charges were presented unexpectedly at a December 5 hearing, when Lexa came to a police station in Bratislava after being called to testify as a witness in an unspecified case. If found guilty, Lexa could face life imprisonment.


INTERIOR Minister Vladimír Palko said Lexa's SIS conducted 'state terrorism'.
photo: TASR

In addition to the three principal charges, Lexa faces eight more from previous indictments, including fraud, corruption, theft, sabotage and aiding and abetting criminals.

Lexa escaped from Slovakia in 2000 while under investigation and was in hiding until summer 2002 when he was tracked down in South Africa. He was then held in custody in Slovakia but was later released through a Supreme Court ruling, which argued that the judge who jailed Lexa was biased. The three Supreme Court judges who released Lexa from custody are now themselves under investigation for having ruled in conflict with the law, police reported.

Lexa's lawyers insisted that Slovak police and state organs were engaged in a "barbaric hunt" for their client, a member of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

Lexa is close to the party's leader, Vladimír Mečiar, who named Lexa to the top job at the SIS during his 1994-1998 premiership, and who in March 1998 issued an amnesty on all cases related to the Kováč Jr. kidnapping.

Palko said that Mečiar, then prime minister and thus Lexa's direct superior, carried political responsibility for the alleged crimes but refused to speculate on whether the ex-PM was to face criminal charges as well.

The HZDS immediately criticised Palko's comments about Mečiar, saying they were part of a "long-term and until now ungrounded criminalisation of political opponents," in an official statement signed by HZDS deputy chair Rudolf Žiak.

"[Coming one day] before the upcoming municipal elections [which took place December 6-7] this is a clear attempt to manipulate public opinion against the strongest opposition party," the statement said.

Lexa's lawyers, meanwhile, alleged that certain underworld figures were used as witnesses against Lexa in return for unspecified rewards.

Lexa's former lawyer Juraj Trokan said: "According to our information there has been an effort to promise rewards to people from the underworld if they speak out [against Lexa]."

Recently, two alleged mafia bosses - Ľuboš Ferus and Mikuláš Černák - were released from custody and jail respectively, leading some media to speculate that they provided information that led to the arrest of Lexa. Palko, however, categorically denied the allegations.

"Absolutely not," he said, when asked whether police convinced mafia figures to testify against Lexa in return for their freedom.

The alleged Nitra region underworld boss Ferus was allegedly seen on the crime scene of the Remiáš murder, while Ferus's lawyer, Ladislav Kuruc, was photographed this autumn in a Bratislava cafe sitting at a table with Lexa. Ferus, however, denied that he had ever had any dealings with Lexa and said he had never even met Lexa in person.

Černák, the alleged underworld boss of central Slovakia's Banská Bystrica region, was released three weeks ago after serving half of his jail term for extortion and a number of other crimes including tax evasion. On his release he was transported straight from jail to an unknown place, where he gave testimony on an unspecified matter at his own request.

Palko refused to comment on these two figures in relation to the Lexa arrest.

"I see no reason to comment on [the allegations that Černák testified against Lexa] to unnecessarily raise his importance," said Palko, and later repeated the same statement of Ferus.

He added, however, that Černák was not under police protection. The minister also said that the charges against Lexa had been supported by "dozens of testimonies from witnesses, of which nearly 10 are secret witnesses".

The minister also said that he expected complications to arise while the case was being solved because "what we are facing now is not just one man who had power and committed crimes," Palko said.

"What we are facing is a large group of people who have no scruples and have hundreds of millions of crowns to try to influence the matter through illegal means.

"For years we have been trying to deal with state terrorism, with the president's son's kidnapping and the murders that followed in an attempt to cover up that crime," said Palko.

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