A DECADE ago, chances were that if you opened a pub or nightclub in a larger Slovak town, you could expect a visit from the local mafia, offering you the “protection” services of a certain private security company. To refuse was to invite a beating or worse – to have your business wrecked or set on fire.
But nor were you always better off paying for protection. Slovakia’s private security companies were in many cases simply fronts for organised crime, providing gangsters with both legal employment and a permit to carry a gun. In 2002, Ján Grigely, an employee of the Vesuv KT security company, shot a British football fan in the neck at the Kelt pub in downtown Bratislava after rowdy patrons refused to leave at closing time. Vesuv’s owners and managers were later jailed briefly for extortion, although Grigely was found to have acted in self-defence.
Over three years ago, the Interior Ministry tried to rid the security industry of organised crime with a new law on private security companies, known as SBS in Slovakia. The key change in the SBS law was a provision allowing the police to take away the licence of any company whose owners or managers it judged to be “unreliable”. Reasons included being charged with a crime, or simply not offering an assurance that they would obey the law.
The new law was welcomed by the former vice-president of the police corps, Jaroslav Spišiak, as a tool to fight the mafia.
“The only way to eliminate organised crime from the security sector was to make the rules more strict,” he said in an interview at the end of August. The police could even take away the licence of an SBS company based on ‘operational’ information, such as a report from the secret service.
So how many SBS firms have lost their licence for “unreliability” since the law took effect in January 2006? None, according to police spokesperson Andrea Polačiková.
“We have had three cases where a licence was not issued for that reason,” she said.
Spišiak, who today is head of security for the Slovnaft oil refinery, said the law proved impossible to apply, given the reluctance of the courts to uphold its terms.
“We started by taking away hundreds of gun permits (on the grounds of unreliability), but every gun owner who took their case to court won,” he said. “It became clear to us that the courts were not going to accept our arguments, and it was also clear that if we took away the licences of SBS companies on the basis of only operational information, we would be liable for huge damages.”
At first glance it is difficult to believe that the police have no doubts about the reliability of any existing SBS in Slovakia. The Organised Crime Unit keeps tabs on hundreds of people linked to the mafia, many of whose names were leaked in 2005 on what became known as “the mafia lists”. Some of the most important organised crime figures still have close ties to SBS companies.
What has changed since 2006 is that many SBS firms have changed their formal ownership or management to meet the rules. For example, the LA-BS security firm used to belong to Andrej Očenáš, who police believe is a member of the militant Piťo gang in the Lamač suburb of Bratislava. Now the company belongs to Helena Očenášová, who lives at the same address as the former owner.
The IV Security firm, on the other hand, used to belong to former policeman Ivan Jakšík, who police believe is the head of the Jakšík organised crime group in Bratislava. Now the company is called A-Team System, but its new owner, Ivan Pokorný, is still regarded as a Jakšík group member.
“You can never prevent organised crime from owning SBS companies,” said Ľubomír Kösegi, a member of the board of the Association of Security Companies. “But now we see what a pipe-dream the SBS law was. There are 1,000 SBS companies in Slovakia, of which maybe only 50 are suspect. For these guys it’s no problem to find a lawyer or a former policeman and make him the owner or manager.”
František Borbély is one of the names on the 2005 ‘mafia lists’. The police believe he is a high-ranking member of the Sýkora organised crime group in Bratislava, one of the country’s oldest. Until last year he was the owner of the DKFB security firm, but in 2007 he was charged with extortion. Now DKFB is in someone else’s name.
Nevertheless, Borbély said in an interview for The Slovak Spectator that DKFB is part of a network of SBS companies that he – now indirectly – owns, and that employ more than 500 people. They guard not only pubs and nightclubs, but also shopping centres and banks.
“They are all on full-time contracts, I pay their payroll taxes, income taxes, everything as it should be,” he said. “Extortion still goes on, but now it’s on the basis of a contract, everything is legal.”
In Bratislava, at least, it seems as if the SBS law has only forced the mafia to legalise its activities, not to change its ways.
In the Old Town, almost every business, including bookshops and second-hand clothing stores, has a sticker in the window claiming its premises are protected by some SBS company. Kösegi says that most of these stores are connected to a central dispatch, meaning that if something happens, the SBS will send a patrol. This simple service costs about €200 a month.
A-Team System, Ivan Jakšík’s former company, appears to be one of the most successful, with its stickers appearing on pubs and gaming parlours from the outskirts of Dúbravka to the Old Town. Borbély’s former DKFB is also well represented among Bratislava casinos, bars and discos.
“SBS companies multiplied as an answer to the need to legalise extortion after the police began taking more aggressive action against the crime,” said a high-ranking policeman from the Organised Crime Unit, who asked for anonymity to be able to talk more freely. “The only difference from the past is that now they actually perform some kind of service.”
Officially, however, the police do not believe that extortion is a widespread problem. “In recent years extortion cases have been infrequent,” said Polačiková, who did not comment on cases of SBS companies controlled by known mafia members. “We will not comment on police suspicions because they are based on operational information that the police never discuss.”
Compared to a decade ago, organised crime groups now own far more pubs, nightclubs and restaurants. Interestingly, many of these also bear SBS stickers. So is someone extorting the mafia?
The Kryštál Bar in downtown Bratislava, for example, is partly owned by Ivan Jakšík through the FO-SA Gama company. On its door is a sticker advertising A-Team system, Jakšík’s former company.
In Košice, a building housing the RR Night Club brothel and several other firms close to Róbert Okoličány, who police believe to be head of the local mafia, is guarded by the Security Group SBS. Police believe that this SBS is controlled by Okoličány himself.
“Having one company you own provide security to another of your firms is a useful way of laundering money,” said the police source.
But Borbély, whose pawn shop on Obchodná Street in downtown Bratislava is guarded by an SBS company from his ‘portfolio’, said that such stickers serve as a warning to other would-be ‘protectors’ that the site belongs to him. “It’s like a kind of advertising,” he said.
Few entrepreneurs were willing to discuss the SBS company they employed, or why they needed protection. But many said they themselves had sought out protection before opening – they had been afraid to run the risk of a ‘visit’.
14. Sep 2009 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson