ONE YEAR after a Slovak citizen unwittingly carried explosives aboard a plane from Poprad to Dublin following a police exercise went wrong, the Slovak authorities have again found themselves facing international criticism after a failed operation landed an innocent truck driver in a Turkish prison.
This time it was not a training exercise but an international anti-drugs operation which went awry, spoiling the Christmas of the Czech truck driver, who was arrested by police in Turkey. Following Czech authorities’ demands for an explanation from Slovakia, Slovak police have tried to blame their Turkish counterparts.
The international anti-drugs sting was launched on December 10, 2010. A Czech truck set off from a warehouse in Dunajská Streda, loaded with what the driver believed were 17 tonnes of disinfectant. In fact, the truck was carrying acetic anhydride, a chemical used to refine morphine into heroin. According to the Interior Ministry, the substance had been stolen by an international drugs gang from a factory in Europe and could have helped produce some 400 kilograms of heroine, which the gang was planning to sell back to European countries including Slovakia. The ministry said such an amount would constitute around 10 million doses of heroin, sufficient to supply 10,000 drug users for a year. The street price of the final drugs was estimated at about €16.6 million.
Zdeněk Pekara, the driver who unwittingly drove the substance across Europe to Turkey, was arrested upon his arrival at an Istanbul warehouse on December 24 and only released after several days, once the circumstances had been explained.
“Imagine you are going to unload the cargo, you arrive at the customs office and there 50 people jump on you,” Pekara said, as quoted by the Aktualne.sk news server.
The Slovak police have since come in for strong criticism in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The Czech media wrote that the truck driver had fallen victim to a bungled police operation, which they compared to an incident in early 2010 which resulted in explosive material being carried aboard an aeroplane from Poprad to Ireland by an unwitting Slovak citizen.
Former interior minister Robert Kaliňák (Smer) called on the Interior Ministry and the police to apologise for their conduct. He claimed the Slovak authorities had lost contact with their Turkish counterparts a day after the truck left Dunajská Streda, and under such circumstances were obliged to halt the action, the TASR newswire reported.
While the Czech police were waiting for explanations from their Slovak counterparts, the Slovak Interior Ministry announced that it would demand an explanation from the Turks.
Slovaks blame Turks
Slovak Police Corps president Jaroslav Spišiak and Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic both blamed the Turkish side for the failure of the operation. Slovakia is planning to file an official protest, saying the Turkish police marred the operation, which had been intended to bust an international drug gang. Instead, two people were taken into custody in Slovakia, but the organisers in Turkey were not caught.
“We have revealed an important group of drug producers and we wanted to also reveal the higher layers, the big fish,” Lipšic said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that this case proves that Turkey is not yet ready to join the EU.
Police president Spišiak stressed that the Slovak police did not put the driver in danger, as they did not choose the shipper. He said that if the police had not organised the operation, the driver could have been detained in Turkey and faced a life sentence.
“In fact we saved him,” Spišiak said.
According to Spišiak, the problem arose when the shipment arrived at a customs warehouse in Turkey and the Turkish police “started behaving strangely”. He said they checked whether the Red Crescent NGO had really ordered the disinfectant that was declared in the customs declaration, even though “they must have known it was only a fictitious declaration”. Spišiak claimed the Turkish police breached the agreement according to which they were supposed to let the driver unload the cargo and return to Slovakia.
According to Spišiak, the operation was agreed on by seven countries, and came within the remit of Eurojust, the EU umbrella group for fighting international crime. It observed the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotics, he added.
The Office of the General Prosecutor confirmed to the media that the operation was supervised by a special prosecutor and was fully in line with the law. The method of controlled delivery was used in order to enable the police to identify not only the persons who directly manipulated the cargo but also those who organised and managed the deal.
According to police, a controlled delivery has been used at least five times in the last four years, most recently in 2009, when the Czech Republic asked Slovak police to monitor a car which transported heroin from Turkey to the Czech Republic via Slovakia.
While Turkey has still not provided an official explanation of why their police detained the driver, Slovakia’s representative with Eurojust, Ladislav Hamran, confirmed to the Sme daily that he had already received “certain answers” as to why the driver was detained.
The case might result in Slovakia being obliged to pay hundreds of euros in damages to the driver and the company that owns the truck. The driver, although released from custody, was expelled by Turkey and banned from re-entering the country for one year. That means he will lose his job, as the company he works for specialises only in transport to Turkey.
The company’s owner, Martin Pavlát, said the truck is still being held in Turkey. He said he has received no help from Slovakia, and complained about suggestions by Spišiak that his company might be a part of the organised crime group, the Hospodárske Noviny daily reported.
5. Jan 2011 at 16:00 | Michaela Terenzani