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Czech Republic: Further Details Emerge In Plot To Murder Journalist

  • Jolyon Naegele

As the investigation continues into the plot to murder Czech investigative journalist Sabina Slonkova, there have been mounting calls for former Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan -- now president of the United Nations General Assembly -- to resign, including one from President Vaclav Havel.

Prague, 24 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Further details are emerging of the foiled plans to murder Czech investigative reporter Sabina Slonkova. The case leads to a highly placed former official of the Czech Foreign Ministry, Karel Srba.

At the weekly cabinet meeting today, the interior and foreign ministers reported on their investigations in the case. Afterward, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told reporters he wants to speak to Srba's former boss, former Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, currently president of the United Nations General Assembly, as soon as he returns to Prague on 26 July. Spidla terms the case "serious and important," saying the government "wants the case to be followed through to the end regardless of who is or is not behind it."

Kavan so far has not been directly implicated in the plot. Nevertheless, Czech President Vaclav Havel said yesterday that Kavan should consider stepping down from some of his posts. Kavan is also legislator in the lower house of the Czech parliament.

Kavan, in an interview with RFE/RL in New York, declined to consider resigning. "I really see no reason and I do think this is just an example of a highly politicized atmosphere and I do believe that common sense and rational thinking will soon prevail," Kavan said.

Kavan expressed hope for a thorough investigation into all aspects of the case. He also said he has the support of UN diplomats. "The other reaction I got [from diplomats] was an expression of support and solidarity in saying we believe that the Czech Republic is a legal state; this is an exaggerated response and we are sure this thing will calm down soon," Kavan said.

On 19 July, Czech police arrested Kavan's former aide, ex-Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Karel Srba, as he left his luxury compound at Stochov, just west of Prague, to play tennis. During a subsequent seven-hour-long search of his home and car, police found the equivalent of $1 million (30 million Czech crowns) in cash. When asked what he was doing with so much cash, much of it in his car, Srba said he could not trust anyone with so much money.

The source of the cash is not known.

Former Health Minister Ivan David, a court psychiatrist, has known Srba for seven years. David said there is no motive for Srba to have Slonkova killed.

However, one theory is that the plotters suspected that Slonkova, who has written several dozen critical stories about Srba in recent years, was on the trail of a new scandal. Another theory is one of revenge for the professional damage the previous stories have caused to Srba's career.

A third possible motive is that the plan was the brainchild of another plotter, Eva Tomsovicova, who wanted to do Srba a favor.

In an interview today in the left-leaning, pro-government daily "Pravo," Srba's wife Marketa came to her husband's defense, saying, "he never thought of revenge."

She said Tomsovicova knew Srba from discussions he had while at the Foreign Ministry and that after he left the ministry last year, Tomsovicova became a frequent visitor to the Srba household and an occasional babysitter for their young daughter.

Marketa Srbova said she does not know why Tomsovicova ingratiated herself into the Srba household, adding, "I think she was expecting my husband to offer her more than just friendship." Srbova said her husband had no inkling that Tomsovicova allegedly hired people in the south Bohemian town of Vimperk to murder Slonkova.

Tomsovicova is alleged to have hired two Vimperk entrepreneurs to arrange the murder. They, in turn, hired a local petty criminal, Karel Rziepel, on 6 July to kill Slonkova by 10 July, apparently giving him Semtex explosive, a photograph of Slonkova, and her address. The fee for the murder was to be the equivalent of around $6,500.

What they did not know was that Rziepel was also a police collaborator.

Rziepel said he never had any intention to kill Slonkova. He said he accepted the offer to ensure that no one else would be hired to carry out the job. He had two secret mobile-telephone numbers to the police crime squad and called his contact on 9 July to announce he had something to show them. What he soon showed them was a plastic bag with 310 grams of military-issue, black Semtex explosive and guns he had been given by the plotters.

Rziepel has given different accounts of how long he waited before calling the police -- the same day, the following da,y and three days later -- which has cast doubt on his story. The authorities, nevertheless, have allowed Rziepel to remain free, since in their eyes, he did not participate in a crime.

Former military prosecutor Miroslav Krizenecky, whom Srbova has hired to defend her husband, told reporters the only person to allege clearly that Srba was behind the plot is Tomsovicova. Krizenecky said police gave him a transcript of their interrogation of Tomsovicova in which she was asked about an intercepted text message Tomsovicova says she sent from Srba's mobile phone, referring to plans to commit further murders. The lawyer said he did not recognize any of the names and that another journalist, Jiri Kubik, who co-wrote the articles about Srba with Slonkova, was not among the names of planned targets.

Krizenecky said that after reading the 14-page transcript, he believes the whole case is based on Tomsovicova's fantasies, adding that Srba had no need to kill anyone. He rejected suggestions that the whole matter is a game between intelligence agencies. Srba used to work as an agent for Czech defense intelligence.

The south Bohemia state prosecutor, Barnabas Liska, said he believes he knows the origin of the Semtex but denies it came from military intelligence.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda today fired Srba's successor, Pavel Jaros, as secretary-general of the Foreign Ministry, although he insisted the dismissal had nothing to do with the Srba case. At the time of his appointment in April 2001, Jaros dismissed allegations that he had been appointed on the recommendation of Srba and then-Prime Minister Milos Zeman's controversial adviser, Miroslav Slouf.