THE INTERNATIONAL scandal over explosive material unwittingly carried from the Poprad airport to Dublin by a Slovak citizen after a mismanaged police security training exercise continues to shake the political scene and will most likely end in a no-confidence motion against Slovakia’s Interior Minister.
A transcript, published by the Sme daily on January 11, of a recorded communication between the policeman who had attached the explosive sample to the luggage of a passenger onboard a Danube Wings flight from Poprad to Dublin and the airport control tower as well as the plane’s pilot as he readied for take-off on January 2 has cast more light on the baffling story. It is clear from the transcript that the policeman told the airport control tower that the material was a real explosive, not a mock-up, but assured them that it could not explode without additional components required to make it a functional bomb.
The control tower then passed the information on to the pilot of Danube Wings, saying that “the policeman forgot a mock-up of an explosive” attached to a passenger’s luggage. Based on this statement the pilot decided that “we’ll fly with the mock-up and then try to explain it somehow there in Dublin”.
Before the transcript was published, the authorities at Poprad airport had insisted that the police were to blame for the incident.
But based on the communication between the pilot and the control tower, airport control tower staff, who work under the authority of the Transport Ministry, have also had to face blame for some of the errors.
The Transport Ministry reacted to publication of the transcript by announcing that the incident will be inspected by Slovakia’s Aviation Office, the authority entrusted with monitoring whether air transport legislation is followed. The ministry refused further comment on the incident until the inspection is finished, the TASR newswire reported.
The transcript also corroborated statements made by Danube Wings on January 6, in which the airline said the pilot was not informed about the fact that the onboard substance was an actual explosive.
According to Petr Somol, executive security director of Czech Airlines, all parties involved in an exercise must be previously informed about its nature.
“If an airline company is to be involved in an exercise, its security department must be informed sufficiently in advance and then, of course, cooperate with the authorities,” Somol told The Slovak Spectator.
Politics of the case
The Interior Ministry stated shortly after the story broke that they regarded the whole incident to be “an individual professional failure by a police officer” who will face a disciplinary proceeding.
After strong criticism of his position on the incident, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák’s next step was to accept the previously-offered resignation of Tibor Mako, the head of the Border and Foreigners’ Police, the responsible policing department.
The opposition parties charged that the incident stemmed from a systemic failure, rather than from an individual’s error, and called for the interior minister to take political responsibility. Leaders of the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) agreed at a meeting on January 13 to initiate a no-confidence motion against Kaliňák at an extraordinary session of parliament. They have stated that the action of the police violated Slovakia’s constitution as well as national and international rules.
“Citizens were exposed to risk and threat,” KDH leader Ján Figeľ said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that it was also an unprecedented international stultification which discredited Slovakia very much in the eyes of its partners in the fight against terrorism.
“Kaliňák is better in business than at the ministry,” SITA quoted Figeľ as saying.
Prior, four opposition deputies from the parliament’s security committee as well as the HZDS deputy in the committee, Ján Kovarčík, filed a request for an extraordinary session of the committee at which Kaliňák would be expected to answer questions regarding the incident.
Martin Pado, an SDKÚ deputy who was among the initiators of the special session of the committee, said the MPs believe Kaliňák is politically responsible for the incident.
“It happened in his department, it happened at an office that falls directly under his control, under the man that he himself appointed,” Pado told The Slovak Spectator, specifying that Mako was appointed by Kaliňák and was a direct subordinate.
Pado rejected the Interior Ministry’s assertion that the incident was the result of an individual error. He maintains it was a systemic failure since there are no rules in a specific document that tell police how to react during such an incident during a training activity.
Prime Minister Robert Fico has so far supported the interior minister. In a statement reported by the SITA newswire on January 7, Fico said there was no reason for Kaliňák to resign and that similar exercises with sniffer dogs had been conducted at airports for a long time, including during the previous government.
Pado, who served as interior minister in 2006, rejected that statement.
“Let them show one document where something such as that is written, signed by someone from the management of the police or the Interior Ministry in the past,” Pado said.
He said he agreed entirely with what Mako’s predecessor, Michal Borgula, told the press on January 12: that the system of the work was the same as before, but the practice was different because real samples of dangerous substances had never been put in the luggage of civilians without their prior knowledge.
“Apart from that, there were always efforts to test the luggage coming to the airport from the aeroplane and not vice versa,” Pado said.
Is Kaliňák’s chair wobbling?
The non-confidence motion in Kaliňák is probably doomed to fail, as the opposition parties do not hold the necessary number of votes in parliament. Junior coalition leader Vladimír Mečiar from the HZDS told a press conference on January 12 that his party will under no circumstances vote against Kaliňák. At the same press conference, however, he said he does not “understand the tolerance” that Kaliňák has shown in the chief of the Police Corps, Ján Packa.
“This man has nothing to do in the post and he is responsible for these steps,” TASR quoted Mečiar as saying.
However, HZDS deputy Ján Kovarčík, who had signed the request for extraordinary session of the security committee along with opposition deputies, believes that Kaliňák bears political responsibility for this case.
“Prime Minister Fico doesn’t have the same meter for ministers,” Kovarčík told the Sme daily. “Kaliňák is lucky to be a Smer deputy chairman. He should have been dealt with long ago.”
Kovarčík added that he had never fully opposed the minister since he was bound by the coalition treaty, but that he believes the numerous mistakes and incidents in the interior ministry are a result of the minister’s mismanaging – such as frequent changes of high political posts.
“And the minister appoints nominees even for politically-lower posts,” Kovarčík said.
The opposition raised their voices against Kaliňák even louder after Sme reported on January 13, the day they were deciding on the non-confidence motion, that a man suspected of drug-related crimes had escaped from a police station in Senica in western Slovakia on December 29 and was still on the run.
Sme wrote that the suspect managed to escape even while handcuffed and that the police were still trying to find him.
The news only emerged after an anonymous reader tipped off Sme about the incident. The police had not publicly reported the suspect’s escape and only confirmed that it had happened after the newspaper made specific enquiries.
“What other scandal has to surface before Interior Minister Kaliňák takes political responsibility?” asked opposition MP Martin Fedor of SDKÚ, commenting on the most recent incident.
18. Jan 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani