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Slovakia: Politics Unsettled By Ducky Murder

Prague, 13 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The murder of a former Slovak government minister early this week is sending shock waves through the country's political leadership.

No arrests have been made and no motive has been established in the shooting in Bratislava on Monday of Jan Ducky, recently dismissed as head of the Slovak gas distribution monopoly SPP. He served as Economy Minister until mid-1996 in the government of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.

Ducky was killed shortly after noon in the lobby of his apartment house. Police say an autopsy showed Ducky was hit by four bullets, three to the head and one to his right hand.

Ducky was closely connected with Russian gas interests in Slovakia as well as with Czech gas and petrochemical interests.

During an April 1997 visit to Bratislava by then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Ducky signed a controversial contract with Russia's Gazprom forming a joint venture to import and distribute Russian gas "outside the framework of existing contracts."

Czech media has reported that Ducky was a member of a group of entrepreneurs who last year acquired a majority share in the now bankrupt Chemapol Group as well as substantial shares in several regional Czech gas distributors.

Ducky was a Deputy Industry Minister of the Slovak Socialist Republic from 1985 until the collapse of communist power. He was then promoted to Industry Minister, a post he held for six months until the first free elections in June 1990. He returned to government after the autumn 1993 parliamentary elections as Economics Minister in Meciar's HZDS government. He remained faithful to Meciar the following year when several HZDS cabinet members revolted and formed a government with the opposition.

HZDS, now again in opposition, holds the current government indirectly responsible for Ducky's death, particularly Economy Minister Ludovit Cernak. The HZDS says the murder was the outcome of political intolerance. It was Cernak who fired Ducky from his post as director of SPP in early November and ordered an extensive audit of the firm, Slovakia's most profitable enterprise.

The Slovak press says SPP had pretax profits of $252 million in 1997 and an estimated $240 million pretax profit last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamzik rejects the HZDS' allegations and says the blame for Ducky's death lies with the financial machinations that occurred during Meciar's final term in office, which ended after his electoral defeat last September.

Last week, Slovak authorities filed charges against Ducky involving gross financial mismanagement at SPP and illegal property transfers.

Slovak Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner says that a possible motive is that someone decided Ducky had to be killed in order to prevent his becoming a witness regarding alleged financial improprieties under Meciar's government. Pittner suggests former employees of the Slovak intelligence service may have been involved.

"For the past several months, I have been saying that we have indications that after the (September) elections, a parallel secret service was established which is in some way linked to the underworld."

Pittner says the investigation into Ducky's death may help clarify whether a parallel secret service exists. Key leaders of the Slovak Information Service (SIS) quit in October just before Meciar left office.

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda says if Ducky's murder was an attempt to frighten the government or end audits, then it will prove a failure. He also vows a full investigation:

"The Slovak government is committed to use all means to clarify matters and find the perpetrators of this criminal offense."

Speaker of Parliament Jozef Migas says Ducky's death should result in the strengthening of the fight against organized crime.

"It is a call for the struggle with organized crime to be a matter of principle --- Not even this act should be allowed to divert us if the motives proves to have been a settling of accounts or a cover-up linked with Mr. Ducky's activities about which someone wanted to prevent any more from being said or divulged and simply took his life."

Ducky's death also may become a catalyst to restrict travel to Slovakia by Russians and Ukrainians. Slovak MP and former Czechoslovak interior minister Jan Langos has suggested an eastern connection. He has called for strengthening visa regulations for Russian and Ukrainian citizens as a way of protecting Slovak citizens against what he terms "further acts of terrorism."