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Criminal gang faces trial

SLOVAKIA's Special Court has on its hands one of the most serious criminal cases of the year, if not in the whole history of Slovak judiciary: the case of the acid-bath gang (kyselinári).

SLOVAKIA's Special Court has on its hands one of the most serious criminal cases of the year, if not in the whole history of Slovak judiciary: the case of the acid-bath gang (kyselinári).

Thirty men are suspected of defrauding the state out of a total Sk179 million (€4.6 million) through VAT tax returns, and several of them are charged in connection with the murder of four of their fellow gang members.

The men are facing a senate led by Special Court Judge Ján Hrubala, who in the past served as head of the cabinet's anti-corruption unit.

What is attracting immense attention from the media is the particularly brutal way the gang disposed of the bodies of their victims: they dismembered the corpses and then dissolved them in acid before pouring them into a cesspool. In addition to the four known murders, other people are still missing.

The alleged gang members stand accused of 14 crimes and the trial is taking place under the strictest security measures.

Council for the defence for one of the accused men is former boss of the Slovak Intelligence Service Vladimír Mitro.

Mitro told the press that he is not burdened by any bias due to his previous position and he believes that his client will be freed.

The story of the acid-bath gang started back in 2000 when František Miker, along with 13 other people established a network of 50 firms in Slovakia, Ukraine, Croatia and the Czech Republic, for trading worthless software.

The software was in fact a useless collection of laws from the 1990s, freely accessible on the Internet. After exporting the software, the group claimed a tax return on VAT.

In 2000, gang members murdered Marek Novotný who represented one of the firms, and had become inconvenient for the gang. Gang founder Miker suffered the same fate because his fellow-criminals felt he was not dividing the gains equally.

The bodies of Marián Cibíček and Ladislav Sihelník also ended up in acid.

The prosecution claims that the murders were committed by Rastislav Š., Jozef K. and Dusan P., while Peter L. allegedly assisted them. The accused men deny the charges of murder.

The Special Court also started a trial on the Devín banka fraud, yet another bulky criminal case that has been subject to long delays.

An organized gang is suspected of three murders. In total, the bank lost Sk57 million (€1.4 million) as a result of the criminal activities and eight people are currently being held in pre-trial custody.

In early 2002, two bankruptcy trustees (together with seven other people) transferred approximately Sk22 million (€545,000) to another company, Slovdrev, whose three executive agents, dubbed "white horses", later became a liability to the gang.

Later on, the money was transferred to several other accounts that the bankruptcy trustees used for their personal purposes. Slovdrev's agent, Anton Bujňák, was murdered on August 11, 2002, Zoltán Nyitrai was murdered in April 2002, and, finally, Štefan Holub was murdered in the autumn of 2002.

However, the Devín banka case is not directly linked to the collapse of the bank or people from its management on which the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Party of Democratic Left had an influence.

The Special Court started operations in a former army barracks in Pezinok, close to Bratislava, on July 1.

The state has put Sk185 million (€4.8 million) into the project, which includes special security measures that make the new court "one of the four best protected buildings in the country", according to Ján Packa, the head of Slovakia's institute for the protection of top officials.

- Beata Balogová

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