ACCORDING to Ivan Lexa, the former head of Slovakia’s secret service (the SIS), parliament should consider repealing the resolutions it passed approving his arrest and prosecution. “To respect history, but also the purity of the Slovak Parliament, it should consider whether these resolutions by parliament - of which I was a member - should not be formally cancelled,” Lexa said on October 9, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
These comments came in reaction to a ruling by the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) that Slovakia had violated his rights by holding him in custody for more than 90 days on suspicion of involvement in the abduction of Michal Kováč Junior on August 31, 1995.
Lexa’s custody, from April 15 to July 19, 1999, was approved by parliament since he was at the time an MP for the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and thus enjoyed immunity from prosecution, which only parliament could lift.
The ECHR verdict, issued on September 23, 2008, declared that the abduction of Kováč was covered by amnesties issued on March 3 and July 7, 1998, by then-Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who at the time was also acting as president.
The ECHR disregarded the investigation into Kováč’s abduction prior to the amnesties. During this period, i.e. between 1995 and 1998, the Slovak media raised reasonable suspicions that the investigation had been manipulated.
The main investigator, Peter Vačok, was spied on during the investigation by the SIS (photographs since revealed prove the surveillance took place). A member of the SIS, Oskar Fegyveres, confessed to Vačok in September 1995 that he and his SIS colleagues had been involved in the abduction. He subsequently fled into hiding abroad, fearing for his life.
Vačok then accused Fegyveres of the abduction, together with two other SIS employees. Just hours later, the prosecutor struck down the accusations and Vačok was suddenly removed from the investigation. Soon afterwards, he was forced to leave the police. He was not the only one. His superiors – the head of the Regional Police in Bratislava and the head of the Investigation Section – were also pushed out.
It should go without saying that political interference, especially by a prime minister, in criminal investigations is incompatible with the rule of law in a democratic country. Nevertheless, Mečiar himself did not at the time conceal that he had influenced the investigation.
Six days after the abduction, on September 5, 1995, Mečiar, told the public service TV channel STV that there had been no abduction and that Kováč most probably abducted himself. The investigator at the time completely rejected Mečiar's claim.
Vačok asked Lexa, as head of the SIS, to waive confidentiality, suspend the SIS members who by then were suspects in the abduction case, and to remain silent on the case. Lexa refused, instead launching a lawsuit against Vačok. Vačok was also sued by Mečiar. Slovakia thereby became an oddity among European countries, with the prime minister filing a lawsuit against a citizen of his country on grounds of alleged libel. Both lawsuits were later dismissed.
In October 1995, Mečiar told media that officers from central Slovakia would thenceforth handle the case. Soon afterwards, Jozef Číž was appointed to investigate the case. Číž promptly halted the investigation, saying the perpetrators could not be found.
Nor did the ECHR address the death of Robert Remiáš in a car bombing on April 29, 1996. Remiáš was the best friend of the key witness Fegyveres and had been acting as a contact to him while was Fegyveres in hiding. The Remiáš murder file remains open.
Journalists who covered the abduction were threatened, followed, and verbally and physically attacked. The cars of Eugen Korda and Peter Tóth were set alight by unidentified offenders.
The ECHR also declined to take into consideration that the SIS is subordinate to the government by law. The head of the secret service - who at the time was Lexa - is responsible to the National Defence Council. The chairman of the council is the prime minister – i.e. at the time, Mečiar.
It was Mečiar, who several hours after assuming presidential powers after the end of the term of his political rival, Michal Kováč – the father of abductee Michal Kováč Jr - announced the first amnesty.
Since the ECHR did not ask whether or how Mečiar, as prime minister, manipulated the investigation into the abduction, it did not ask, either, whether he had effectively granted an amnesty to himself.
Nor the ECHR did not ask whether the investigation and judicial bodies in Slovakia were still under the influence of the former communist regime, which had ruled for more than 40 years until 1989. Under that regime, the secret service, the ŠtB, routinely abducted and even killed political opponents without ever facing punishment.
The bar on investigating suspicions concerning grave crimes allegedly committed by senior - as well as rank-and-file - members of public bodies is, sadly, renowned in Slovakia from the authoritiarian communist period.
If the ECHR decided that Lexa could not be prosecuted over the abduction of Kováč because he is covered by Mečiar’s amnesties, and even though some circumstantial evidence and suspicions in this case point to Mečiar himself, then in doing so it signalled that it is unconcerned with the continuation of traits of authoritarianism in Slovakia.
In the light of this, even Lexa’s demand to parliament that it re-evaluate its 1999 decision to strip him of his MP’s immunity is not so ridiculous after all.
20. Oct 2008 at 0:00 | Ľuba Lesná