Prague, June 20 (RFE/RL) - A political chessmatch in Slovakia between government officials and Michal Kovac Jr., the son of the Slovak president, took a few new turns this week.
But the moves do little to advance a game.that has enraptured Slovak and foreign observers for more than a year. The latest gambit began Tuesday when German authorities rescinded an international arrest warrant for Kovac Jr. It had been in effect since 1994. Kovac Jr.'s lawyer, Jan Havlat, said that the warrant was rescinded so Kovac Jr. could travel to Germany for questioning about a fraud case without fear of arrest.
But then Slovak authorities blocked Kovac Jr. from going.
Last week, Kovac Jr. said he wanted to go to Munich to speak to German prosecutors. He said that if the Slovak authorities refused him permission to travel out of the country, as he put it, this "will show there is a dirty game going on because first they stick me there (abroad) and now they won't let me go. And all this time, everyone from the prime minister to God-knows-who is screaming, 'He'd better go.' "
The Slovak Ministry of Interior said Kovac Jr.'s passport was suspended because he is under criminal investigation in Slovakia for his part in the fraud. The ministry said only the investigator in the case can lift the suspension, after he decides whether to proceed with the case or drop the charges.
An obviously frustrated Kovac Jr. told a news conference in Bratislava he would now like public advice on how he could clear his name without breaking Slovak law. The Bratislava newspaper Praca commented in an editorial, the only option left for Kovac Jr. is to "illegally swim across the Danube, like in the good, old communist days."
The convoluted mystery, which involves political feuding, fraud, espionage, kidnapping and a possible murder, began in 1992 when the Bratislava company Technopol complained it was the victim of a 2.3 million dollar fraud. Many details of the alleged fraud remain undisclosed, but reports say the company paid for undelivered goods. A German court convicted Peter Krylov, a Slovak immigrant, of the fraud the same year.
In 1994, Krylov changed his initial testimony and named Michal Kovac Jr. as one of his accomplices in the fraud. The prosecutor's office in Munich issued an international arrest warrant for Kovac Jr. The intent of the warrant was to bring Kovac Jr. to Munich to answer to the charges made by Krylov.
Members of the Slovak government, as well as the pro-government press in the country, seized on the issue and, according to opposition press and politicians, launched a campaign to discredit the younger Kovac.
Kovac Jr.'s father has had a long-running feud with Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. The president led a successful campaign to oust the prime minister from office, for what Kovac deemed to be Meciar's anti-democratic practices. The campaign resulted in a vote of non-confidence in the prime minister's coalition; but Meciar rebounded and was re-elected in December of 1994. Since then, the prime minister has determinedly fought to limit the president's powers and force Kovac from office. The two men have fought an intense, public battle since the new elections.
Meciar's opposition says the prime minister saw an opportunity to discredit the president through his son.
In August of last year, with the German warrant hanging over him and still under suspicion of being involved in the Technopol fraud, Kovac Jr. wound up drunk, behind the wheel of a car, in front of an Austrian police station, about 10 kilometers across the border from Slovakia. Kovac Jr. said he was abducted in Bratislava, beaten up, forced to drink a bottle of whisky and then, unconscious, driven across the border. He said the Slovak Secret Service (SIS) was behind the abduction, in a further attempt to discredit him. The SIS is led by Ivan Lexa, who is a close ally of Meciar and, thus, a foe of the president.
In Austria, Kovac Jr. was arrested on the outstanding German warrant, and taken into custody.
Back in Bratislava, furor over the kidnapping continued to rise. Peter Toth, a reporter for the opposition newspaper Sme said he was roughed up while conducting an investigation into the case. He accused SIS and the government of harassing him. Two police investigators who concluded SIS was directly involved in the kidnapping were fired. And a former SIS agent, Oskar Fegyveres, confirmed to Austrian authorities, as well as the opposition press, that he was involved in the kidnapping, along with several other SIS agents.
In an interview to be broadcast Sunday with RFE/RL's Slovak service, Fegyveres said 14 or 15 SIS agents followed Kovac Jr. for weeks before his abduction. Fegyveres said that on the day of the kidnapping, in his words, "We got an order on the radio to stop (Kovac's) car. . . . It was from Mr. L." He described the kidnapping as "a clean SIS operation." Fegyveres told RFE/RL he still fears for his life for going public with the information. He said he avoids places where Slovak is spoken and stays clear of cars with Slovak license plates.
The journalist, Toth, and the opposition have said Fegyveres' fears proved to be well-founded. His best friend, a former Slovak police officer named Robert Remias, was killed. Remias's car exploded under mysterious circumstances.
Slovak Interior Ministry spokesman, Peter Ondera, said a government investigation revealed the explosion was caused by a faulty propane engine in Remias's custom BMW. The president challenged the statement, saying the announcement was made shortly after the incident and before a proper investigation could even be carried out.
At Remias's funeral on May 14, Kovac's supporters, including Toth, said the death was a political murder. Jan Balaz, a Franciscan friar, said during the eulogy, "The blood of this innocent man lies on the hands of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and the director of the SIS, Ivan Lexa."
Fegyveres says he, too. is convinced the secret police were involved in his friend's death. He told RFE/RL that everytime he met Remias, his friend told him he was being followed by SIS agents. As Fegyveres put it, "He was afraid of the people who followed him." Fegyveres said the agents following Remias were considered among the most dangerous in the secret service.
The Slovak government vehemently denied any involvement. Officials filed libel and defamation charges against three people who spoke at the funeral, including Balaz.
Six months after Kovac Jr.'s initial detention in Austria, a Vienna court freed him, saying the German warrant could not be enforced because his human rights were violated when he was brought across the border. It allowed him to return to Bratislava. In his ruling, presiding Judge Freidrich Novotny criticized the Slovak government. He said that it did not launch a protest with Austria over the kidnapping, even though it was aware of it. Novotny also said that the evidence suggested the SIS played a role in the kidnapping.
The Slovak Foreign Ministry called the ruling deplorable and demanded an apology from the Austrian government. Austria issued a terse statement rejecting the Slovak demand and said its government would not meddle in an independent judiciary.
On his return to Bratislava, Kovac Jr. said he offered to assist the third investigator who was assigned to the kidnapping case, Major Jozef Ciz. Kovac Jr. said he offered to prove the involvement of a number of influential people, including Meciar and Lexa.
Kovac Jr. said the investigator -- in Kovac's words -- "sent me a written note saying he is rejecting (this offer) because it will not help clear up the basic issues." Ciz later set the case aside, saying there was not enough evidence available to lay charges against any specific person or persons.
At this time, a mysterious tape was received by the private Bratislava radio station, Twist. The radio station, as well as RFE/RL, broadcast the tape. It appeared to be a recording of a conversation between Interior Minister Ludovit Hudek and SIS boss Ivan Lexa. In the friendly, profanity-filled, conversation, two men discuss removing from the case one of the investigators who linked SIS to the kidnapping. The tape caused an uproar in Bratislava. There were demands for the resignations of both Hudek and Lexa.
Meciar's party permitted a public hearing in Parliament about SIS's role. There alos was a debate on whether to remove Hudek from the cabinet. During his presentation to Parliament, Lexa repeated the often-stated government line that Kovac Jr. instigated the kidnapping in order to avoid a hearing in Germany. He accused the younger Kovac of using some disgruntled SIS agents in the operation in order to discredit the secret service. But the opposition questioned why Kovac Jr. would fake a kidnapping in order to avoid a hearing in Germany, when he knew Austria could send him there on the extradition warrant.
In the end, both Hudek and Lexa got the backing from the government coalition and remained in their posts.