When I first met him in 2008, Salmanov was battling for control of Ski Park Ružomberok with the Takáčovci organised crime group. The Takáčovci had lent him around a million euros, which he refused to return because of some alleged flaws in the loan contract. Whereupon the Takáčovci transferred Salmanov’s title to Ski Park to themselves, using a forged contract.
“I filed a complaint with court,” Salmanov growled. “Don’t worry.”
His court challenge ultimately failed. But in hindsight, given Salmanov’s current legal problems, it was a telling moment.
What made this barrel-chested Russian emigrant, with no obvious criminal entourage, so sure he would triumph in his “business conflicts” with Slovak gangsters?
The answer, I believe, is that Salmanov had his own “gang” – not scowling primitives, but current and former state employees who could settle matters to Salmanov’s satisfaction. Not just Mária Zákalová, head of the Tax Office in Šamorín, whom Salmanov bribed in a VAT fraud scheme, costing him seven years in jail.
Nor just the Smer party boss in Dunajská Streda, whose dealings with Salmanov are still under investigation.
There was also Ľubica Kolesárová, the former boss of the department of excise taxes at the Customs Directorate. Kolesárová left the customs office to work with Salmanov at the time his companies were suing the state for €100 million for seizing his alcohol in 2004. In 2013, hours before Salmanov was arrested, Kolesárová was brutally murdered.
There was also a former head of counter-intelligence at SIS during the second Mikuláš Dzurinda government, to whom Salmanov introduced me in 2011. At that meeting, this individual confirmed to me key parts of the Gorilla file, including its assertion that he had received millions of crowns from the Penta financial group. The money, he claimed, was not for handing over the Gorilla file itself, but for a study of the health-care industry.
Police are still investigating allegations that Salmanov paid off “several judges from Bratislava” in connection with his alcohol case.
Given what we know about his modus operandi, this should be a fruitful inquest. But given the state’s historic reluctance to prosecute organised crime within its own ranks, we can be forgiven our skepticism.
Gangsters, in the official wisdom, do not wear judges’ robes. And Russian criminals drink tea with former senior bureaucrats for their refreshing observations on the weather.
5. May 2015 at 6:30 | Tom Nicholson