A TOP POLICE investigator fired last week says the reasons given by Interior Minister Vladimír Palko for his dismissal are "absolutely untrue", and claims there is a parallel with his sacking over a politically explosive investigation 10 years ago.
Jozef Šátek, who until January 18 was the head of the highly regarded Anti-Corruption Bureau at police headquarters, was accused by Palko of creating conflicts within the police corps through his "intrigues". The minister explained Šátek had criticized other police officers and "claimed things he couldn't prove," although he admitted having offered Šátek the position of head of the Organized Crime Bureau, currently occupied by Jaroslav Spišiak.
"Knowing that he [Šátek] had been critical [of Spišiak's work], I asked him if he was willing to take the responsibility of running it [Spišiak's Bureau]," Palko said in an interview with Rádio Expres, adding that Šátek had turned down the offer.
But Šátek discounted Palko's assertions. "I was inconvenient for many people," he said in explanation of his dismissal in an interview with The Slovak Spectator on January 21.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Why were you fired?
Jozef Šátek (JŠ): I'm not going to answer that question at this point. Not because I don't want to or can't, but simply because I also experienced personal attacks and dismissal in 1995 and 1996. At that time it was in connection with the investigation [by Šátek's Bratislava region bureau of investigation] into the kidnapping of Michal Kováč, Jr. [son of the sitting Slovak president] to Austria. I remember how, when I took a stand against the government at the time, it was followed by various forms of intimidation, to the point that I had to resign. I don't think it would be as extreme today, but I'll say more when I'm a free man and no longer working for the police corps.
But I can add that the reasons and the arguments that were given to the public are absolutely untrue. It would be more true to say that I was inconvenient for many people, for many different reasons.
TSS: Do you interpret your dismissal as a sign that the political leadership of the Interior Ministry is not prepared to investigate the most sensitive cases of corruption affecting powerful political or economic interests?
JŠ: Slovak society develops in cycles. That's why what is new is always entangled with what is old, and takes something negative from the old but also pushes things forward a little. For Slovaks it's a reminder that we aren't as far along in the development of democracy and the fight against corruption and organized crime as we thought.
TSS: Which cases that you have been investigating will be directly affected by your departure?
JŠ: It's inappropriate to speak concretely about any of the hundreds of cases we have. The positive thing about this Bureau and its investigations is that, so far, we've been impartial and apolitical, and we've been able to investigate cases and document things without regard for political party, religious, racial or other affiliations. Maybe this will be a problem in the future operation of the Bureau.
TSS: Which of the cases that you have handled aroused the greatest political or economic reaction?
JŠ: The most interesting case in Slovakia, and to a certain extent a key case, was the [August 1995] kidnapping of the president's son. This case united positive forces in Slovakia, and had a very positive effect on how Slovakia developed politically after 1998.
TSS: Do you see any parallels between your forced exit then and your dismissal today?
JŠ: Yes, essentially. They occurred in different contexts and circumstances, and Slovakia has certainly made enormous progress since 1995 and 1996. But I think the reasons that I had to leave were the same in both cases.
TSS: And what are those reasons?
JŠ: Take the year 1995. The president's son was kidnapped and taken to Austria by an organized group of people. My investigation team discovered that the personnel and equipment of the [Slovak] intelligence service had been involved in the preparation and execution [of the kidnapping]. We were permitted to investigate for several more weeks, but the turning point came when we "dared" to interrogate four former intelligence officers who we knew had been at the scene of the crime and had participated in the kidnapping. The state then declared that we were political investigators, opposition investigators. The attorney general took the case away from us, installed a new management [in the Bratislava region investigation bureau], and I and my deputy, Peter Váčok, had to leave. We weren't acceptable to the political establishment and the [Interior] Ministry leadership, and we knew we never would be acceptable. I think that's where the parallel may lie.
TSS: Can you be specific?
JŠ: I think I already answered the question. Certain people don't want something [to happen]. It's like what happened in America during Prohibition, when the Mafia was supplying alcohol. Some people got very rich, and their families as well, and the money later wound up in different companies. Why would they want the past to be dug up? The same thing happened in Slovakia.
The full interview with Jozef Šátek will be published in the next issue of Spex magazine, on stands February 14.
31. Jan 2005 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson