ĽUBOMÍR Kudlička, who according to a police document leaked in 2005 is a member of the Bratislava-based Takáč organised crime group, last became an owner or a board member of a Slovak company in 2002. Since parliamentary elections in June 2006, however, he has entered two companies - as a co-owner of the new firm KSI Investment in July 2007, and as a member of the supervisory board of the Ski Park Ružomberok resort the month before that.
Juraj Ondrejčák of the Bratislava suburb of Lamač, a.k.a. Piťo, neither owned or managed a Slovak company until 2007, when he entered the Baresto firm as a co-owner. Baresto operates Piťo's pub on Malokarpatské square in Lamač.
The brothers Ivan and Libor Jakšík, former policemen who according to the "mafia lists" compiled by the police head an underworld group in the capital, launched or joined eight companies following the elections.
Altogether, people whose names appear on the police lists joined or founded 35 companies in 2007, a 60-percent rise on the 22 in 2006, and more than double from the year before.
Nor is it only Bratislava mobsters who are setting up new firms. Ján Kán, who was jailed for extortion as a member of Mikuláš Černák's gang in Banská Bystrica, has joined or launched six enterprises since June 2006. Other members of the gang - Miloš Kaštan, Vasil Imrišek and Jozef Švidraň - have also each developed new business interests since the elections, even though collectively they recorded only one new entry in the business register from 1998 to 2006. During the "golden era" for organised crime in Slovakia under the 1994-1998 Mečiar government, the trio recorded six new entries.
What is the significance of this sudden rise in entrepreneurial activity by alleged underworld figures? According to police sources, it reflects a re-awakening of organized crime after years spent on the defensive during the reign of anti-mafia crusader Jaroslav Spišiak, who from 2001-2006 served as vice-president of the police corps.
Growing in strength
"Between 2004 and 2006 we managed to contain organised crime, but beginning in 2007 they again started to grow in strength, especially financially," said a senior police source on condition of anonymity.
The source explained that police pressure on organised crime can take various forms, ranging from roadside stops and raids on homes to audits of company documents and bank accounts, and inspections of businesses by customs, tax and licensing authorities.
"The mafia's goal is always to move from illegal business into the legal sphere, and ultimately to penetrate state and government apparatuses," the source said. "When the police are applying heavy pressure, they tend not to go into legal business, because that just invites new audits and inspections. But when the pressure is lifted, they tend to return to their original plan of going legal. That's what we're seeing here."
But Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák denied that the mafia was enjoying a rebirth under his tenure.
"It is not the role of the police to examine the personnel on the supervisory boards and other organs of private companies," he said through spokesman Erik Tomáš. "If we were to apply the misleading criteria you are using, we could just as easily say that the persons in question are trying to do business legally because they no longer have the room to conduct illegal activities."
Former Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, now an MP with the opposition Christian Democrats, recently labeled the government of Robert Fico as "mafia-friendly".
When confronted with the above statistics, he said the renewed business activities of the alleged mobsters were further proof that "this government is not going after the mafia". "If you give them any room, organised crime starts trying to infiltrate official structures," he said.
Lipšic added that under the Fico government, various tools for combating the mafia have come under attack, including the existence of the Special Court and Special Prosecution for organised crime cases, and the use of agents-provocateurs and crown witnesses.
According to police sources, the police are currently conducting fewer raids and roadside stops of "people of interest" than in the past.
Under former Interior Minister Vladimír Palko, such raids and stops were a daily occurrence. Special SWAT teams joined uniformed officers to pull over mobsters in their cars, give them breathalyser tests, and verify their drivers' and weapons licenses. Piťo was once 'controlled' 13-times on a single day.
These raids and stops were intended to harass the mafia rather than to eliminate them, and to demonstrate to the public that the police were not backing down to organised crime. "Piťo and his guys used to drive into the city from Lamač in convoys of four or five gečky (Mercedes G jeeps), red lights or no red lights. It was pretty in-your-face," said one police source.
Former police president Anton Kulich issued an order in 2004 instructing uniformed officers to take a greater role in combating the mafia, and in preventing "public displays of power".
Under Kaliňák, however, such harassment has virtually ceased.
"The number of stops and raids has definitely gone down since the elections," said the police source. "The current police leadership is more concerned with combating extremism, Schengen and other things. Combating the mafia comes way down the list."
František Borbély, whose name appears on the mafia lists, said that he is doing "worse" under the current police leadership, but claimed that he was being singled out by officers while other "people of interest" were ignored. "The police have become much more unprofessional, apart from a few exceptions.
They're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, and the things they are doing have an ulterior motive." Borbély, who spent four days in custody last year before being released, is currently charged with extortion and racketeering. "They've got nothing on me," he told The Slovak Spectator.
Kaliňák did not answer a question as to whether the number of police raids had decreased. "So-called security and repressive raids are being done now as well, based on evaluations of the current security situation. The only difference is that we don't see the need to call the media after each raid."
A thousand charged
Under Spišiak, the police recorded a series of major busts, including of the Takáč gang in Bratislava, the Okoličány gang in Košice, a gang that allegedly carried out hits under Russian boss Vlodymyr Jegorov, the 'acid gang' that dissolved its victims in vats of sulphuric acid, and a disparate crime structure that profited from selling cheap heating oil as diesel fuel.
In 2004, Spišiak claimed that during his tenure the police had already charged over 1,000 people "who are connected with organised crime or are themselves gangsters".
Under the current leadership of police vice-president Juraj Kopčík, the police have not bust any major organised crime gang. However, Kaliňák rejected the comparison as indicative of poorer police work.
"Not a single one of the mafia cases presented by Jaroslav Spišiak or [former Interior Minister] Vladimír Palko has resulted in a final court conviction," he said.
What are the "mafia lists"?
In the summer of 2005, an eight-page document surfaced listing the names, addresses, dates of birth, and weapons and cars owned by some 200 people the police claim belong to Bratislava's various underworld groups.
The police have never denied the authenticity of the document. These "mafia lists", as they were dubbed by the media, were apparently leaked from a district police station in the capital, and had been prepared by the Bureau for Combating Organised Crime (ÚBOK) as a guide for uniformed police officers.
Under a 2004 directive from then-police chief Anton Kulich, rank-and-file officers were ordered to conduct raids on organised crime gangs, as well as to harass them and keep them under surveillance, and prevent them from staging any public displays of power. The lists were intended to help them identify and target mobsters.
12. May 2008 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson