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First charges laid in VOS wiretap case

THE FIRST charges have been brought in association with the interception last year of journalists’ telephone calls by the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), Slovakia’s military counter-intelligence service, which operates under the Ministry of Defence. Deputy general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka announced the charges while appearing on TV news channel TA3. Ľubomír Galko of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), who was fired as defence minister after the bugging came to light, said that Trnka’s on-air announcement meant he was unfairly interfering in the election campaign in the lead-up to the March 10 general election.

THE FIRST charges have been brought in association with the interception last year of journalists’ telephone calls by the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), Slovakia’s military counter-intelligence service, which operates under the Ministry of Defence. Deputy general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka announced the charges while appearing on TV news channel TA3. Ľubomír Galko of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), who was fired as defence minister after the bugging came to light, said that Trnka’s on-air announcement meant he was unfairly interfering in the election campaign in the lead-up to the March 10 general election.

While Trnka refused to say exactly who was being charged he confirmed that senior members of the VOS would be among them, and that they would be accused of abuse of the powers of a public official and violating the rights of citizens. Trnka did not specify the number of people who would face charges.

“Having collected all the evidence we have come to the conclusion after 10 weeks that the time to bring charges against people that probably participated in illegal activities within the VOS has come and this has actually happened today,” Trnka told TA3 on February 20. “There are at least ten charges, while it is possible there will be more of them and it is also possible that charges will be filed against other persons as well.”

The Pravda and Nový Čas dailies reported on November 21 that reporters at Pravda as well as the head of the TV news channel TA3, Michal Gučík, had had their telephones tapped by the VOS. Nový Čas reported that it had access to VOS transcripts of intercepted phone conversations dating back as far as February 2011. The alleged wiretapping ended after the fall of the government in October 2011, according to Pravda.

The applications to monitor the journalists’ phones was signed by the then head of the VOS, Pavol Brychta, and the wiretapping, purportedly to monitor the so-called “contact base” of three journalists, was approved by a judge.

In Slovakia military intelligence activities are performed by two organisations operating under the Defence Ministry: the Military Intelligence Service (VSS) and the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), which conducts counter-intelligence activities.

Brychta, who was sacked on December 2 by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, who has been acting as defence minister since she dismissed Galko, told the Sme daily that as of February 21 he had no knowledge of being charged. No charges can currently be brought against Galko since he is now an MP and consequently enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution.

Galko has argued that the wiretaps were performed legally and were intended to uncover criminal activity.

“The surveillance and wiretapping had nothing to do with uncovering any criminal activity and this is the greatest problem,” Trnka said on February 20.

Although court approval was sought and obtained for the wiretapping, Trnka said that the reasons used to justify covert surveillance should not be fabricated and that judges should not be deceived and misled by what he called “made-up legends”.

“In a country where 22 years have passed since the Velvet Revolution judges must not be lied to and misled,” Trnka told TA3.

On the question of whether Galko himself knew about the wiretaps or in fact personally ordered them, Trnka said this would be subject to further investigation.

“[Trnka] has been far exceeding his authorities,” said Galko, as quoted by the SITA newswire when commenting on Trnka’s statements, adding that the prosecutor had not said anything concrete. “These were only political statements and thus it is very difficult to comment on this issue. It is interesting that he has been unusually engaging only in this case, as though some other cases have not existed at all.”

Galko also said that he did not know about judges having been misled, Sme reported.

“The requests were prepared by specific VOS officers; I have not commented on them and did not approve or sign them,” Galko said, as quoted by Sme.

When presenting the preliminary results of a parliamentary inquiry on December 7, 2011, Radičová said that the VOS undertook wiretapping when it was not needed. She stated that most of the actions by the VOS did not relate to its primary functions under the law but rather to investigating its own operations and leaks from within, adding that the internal control system had been altered so that wide-ranging leaks of information became possible, SITA wrote.

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