For a decade, Michal Hrbáček was one of Slovakia’s worst-kept secrets. He was rumored to have masterminded the brutal takeovers of companies like Slovglass and Chirana, to have orchestrated the kidnapping of the president’s son, and to have provided muscle for corporate raiders Istrokapitál. He was credited with vast power, connections and ruthlessness. He was untouchable, but no one was safe from him. “Be careful,” said a former police anti-corruption unit chief once said after an interview was over. “He’s the kind of guy who shoots first and asks questions later.”
But Hrbáček’s arrest and jailing on September 12 dealt a blow to the myth of his invincibility. According to sources close to the investigation, former policeman Juraj Rozsík has implicated Hrbáček in dozens of beatings of entrepreneurs and other targets for profit. Rozsík has testified that these crimes were carried out by clandestine commando units made up of former and serving police officers.
Rozsík participated in the November 2006 home invasion of entrepreneur Ján Kubašiak by a trio of renegade cops, and received 8.5 years for his role in the crime, in which Kubašiak was murdered. The killing was the beginning of a massive police investigation into the gangs in their ranks, a case which is still being cobbled together.
Rozsík later allegedly suffered from an attack of conscience, and decided to testify against the other policemen and SWAT members involved in the secret commandos. Investigators have now identified some 140 home invasions, kidnappings, robberies and extortions in which similar tactics were used, and which they believe the police gangs may have committed.
Shortly before Hrbáček’s arrest, Rozsík had come to Bratislava to participate in a reconstruction of the beating in early 2006 of lawyer Tomáš Kozovský, who at the time was the bankruptcy trustee for the Perspektíva insurance house. Police believe that Kozovský had been resisting pressure to sell Perspektíva’s receivables for negligible sums. Kozovský refused to be interviewed by SPEX.
Following a beating administered with Rozsík’s participation, however, Kozovský allegedly changed his mind. He sold almost Sk240 million in receivables owed to Perspektíva, many of them by Istrokapitál’s Poštová banka, for slightly over Sk1.1 million to a firm registered in the Seychelles. It is not known if these receivables were ever collected.
After Rozsík was transferred to Bratislava, however, Bratislava policeman Alexander Sabó called Hrbáček to tell him of the informant’s whereabouts. The direct contact between Hrbáček and those apparently trying to silence Rozsík was all a court needed to take Hrbáček into pre-trial custody.
Rozsík was also clearly intimidated by the presence of a white van that hovered near the police convoy escorting him to his new cell. He had previously complained of being threatened and intimidated while in custody by police and lawyers, who he said had asked him if he wasn’t afraid for his family’s safety.
Rozsík has also provided information in other cases, such as the 2005 takeover of Slovglass by Hrbáček, another former secret service officer Martin Lieskovský, and Miroslav Jacko, a former Banská Bystrica SWAT team member. At the time these three men sat on the board of Slovglass, the company hired Róbert Petluš (at right), a former policeman who was sentenced to 25 years in jail for the murder of Kubašiak.
So far, police have turned up almost a dozen cases in which the police commandos attacked, kidnapped, tortured, robbed and extorted targets such as lawyer Ján Smetana of Banská Bystrica, Trnava businessman Miroslav Príbeľa and Trenčin businesswoman Helena Biceková. According to sources close to the investigation, the gang was also planning to kidnap the child of hockey star Pavol Demitra and extort former HZDS party MP Ivan Kiňo.
While the confession in court of former Trnava SWAT team member Jozef Mogilský has definitely helped the prosecution, the case has its share of complications, among them the fact that no one knows for sure how many serving policemen are involved in the gangs. Having almost been burned by Alexander Sabó’s betrayal of the star witness’ whereabouts, investigators are taking no chances.
(see also related article Pride came before fall).
20. Oct 2008 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson