Ex-spy chief awaits ex-president's apology

SLOVAKIA’s first president, Michal Kováč, must pay damages to the former head of the country’s intelligence agency, Ivan Lexa, the Constitutional Court ruled on October 30, 2012. Slovak courts have been dealing with the case for over 16 years and Kováč, now 82 years old, suggested after the recent ruling that he is ready to take it to an international court.

SLOVAKIA’s first president, Michal Kováč, must pay damages to the former head of the country’s intelligence agency, Ivan Lexa, the Constitutional Court ruled on October 30, 2012. Slovak courts have been dealing with the case for over 16 years and Kováč, now 82 years old, suggested after the recent ruling that he is ready to take it to an international court.

“I hereby apologise to you for my statements with which I offended and criminalised your personality,” Kováč is required to write in his letter of apology to Lexa, the one-time head of the Slovak Information Service (SIS) intelligence agency, the Sme daily reported, quoting a Bratislava Regional Court ruling from June 2012 which has now been confirmed by the Constitutional Court. In addition, Kováč is required to pay €3,319 in damages to Lexa.

Lexa sued Kováč for statements originally made in 1996, when he was the country’s president, concerning the case of the abduction of his son, Michal Kováč Jr in 1995. The case has never been properly investigated, because after Kováč’s term the then prime minister, Vladimír Mečiar, while acting as president, granted two controversial amnesties covering the case. Kováč publicly blamed the abduction on the SIS and Lexa, saying that he believed intelligence service technology and staff were used in the abduction, directed by Lexa himself.

“From what I know from various sources, there is no need to doubt it,” Kováč said about his son’s abduction being directed by Lexa in an interview with the Czech daily Právo in 1997.

The abduction

Kováč Jr was kidnapped and taken over the border into Austria in August 1995. The case and the events that followed have since become a symbol of the late 1990s era of the rule of prime minister Mečiar.

The government denied any role in the abduction, although two police detectives investigating the incident concluded that the SIS was involved. The investigators believed that Lexa masterminded the kidnapping and Lexa was subsequently charged with serious criminal offences including abduction, sabotage, robbery, treason, misuse of power and various white-collar crimes. The two investigators were removed from the case by the general prosecutor, who later suspended the investigation for lack of evidence.

President Kováč was at the time of the abduction engaged in a bitter political struggle with Mečiar; his son was, at the time, wanted for questioning in Germany regarding an alleged crime of which he was later cleared.

No intention to apologise

“Even in the event that the statements of the defendant [President Kováč] were proved true, the defendant, when making the statements, was not entitled to suggest to the public claims that would connect the claimant [Lexa] with criminal and unproven activities,” the Bratislava Regional Court wrote in its verdict on June 2012, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Kováč did not apologise or pay damages to Lexa as ruled by the Regional Court, and instead appealed to the Constitutional Court, complaining that his basic right to freedom of expression and his right to a just court proceeding had been violated. Now he is ready to bring the case to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“I insist on what I said, I’m not changing anything,” he told the Sme daily.

Lexa might, however, enforce the ruling through a writ of execution, Sme wrote, since the regional court ruling gave Kováč three days after the ruling became effective to apologise and pay damages.

Lexa can demand fulfilment of the ruling by filing a court motion, said Peter Wilfling, a lawyer cooperating with the legal NGO Via Iuris. The ex-president would also have to pay the associated costs. Kováč could also be fined up to €30,000 for failing to apologise to Lexa.

However, the ex-president says that the deadline by which he was to settle the matter was voided when he appealed the case to the Constitutional Court.

Lexa’s attorney did not make any comments regarding possible claims.

Kováč, who has had severe health problems in recent years, is currently living in Bratislava. His monthly pension from the state is €995.

Amnesties questioned

Opposition politicians have expressed outrage over the Constitutional Court’s ruling. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) called it a “slap in the face of democracy in Slovakia”, violating Michal Kováč’s right to freedom of expression and a just court proceeding.

KDH submitted a proposal to scrap the so-called Mečiar amnesties when they were still part of the government in April 2011. When Mečiar was acting president, he granted amnesty to the unidentified organisers of the kidnapping of Kováč Jr.

The controversies of the Mečiar era, especially those of his third government in 1994-1998, have long been a preoccupation of the Christian Democrats and since 2000 they have attempted to cancel his amnesties on five separate occasions.

In the 1990s Lexa was accused of involvement in the abduction, but also in the murder of Róbert Remiáš, a go-between in the investigation of the case. He was alleged to have done this to prevent witnesses from testifying about the abduction.

However, Lexa was ultimately shielded from the most serious charges against him by the Mečiar amnesties. These were revoked by Mečiar’s successor as acting president, Mikuláš Dzurinda, but after Lexa’s subsequent detention, the European Court of Human Rights in 2008 ruled in Lexa’s favour, effectively reversing the revocation and re-imposing the amnesties.

The KDH’s 2011 proposal failed after Smer MPs voted against, preventing it from receiving the necessary three-fifths majority needed for passing a constitutional law. Smer leader and current Prime Minister Robert Fico has publicly opposed the cancellation of the amnesties, arguing that from a legal point of view they are irrevocable, even though they are immoral. He has repeatedly said that anyone who attempts to cancel the amnesties should return his or her diploma of law.

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