Slovak authorities have once again arrested the former head of the country's intelligence service, Ivan Lexa, this time on murder charges.
Prague, 6 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Ivan Lexa, the former head of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), is behind bars in Slovakia for the third time. Interior Minister Vladimir Palko says the latest charges filed against Lexa are for murder, abuse of public office, and endangering state secrets. "This concerns the murder of Robert Remias in 1996. Ivan Lexa is accused of undertaking this in an attempt to prevent documentation of the crime of abduction of Slovak citizen Michal Kovac Jr. in 1995."
Lexa was deported from South Africa to Slovakia in July to face charges of kidnapping, fraud, and abuse of power. He pleaded innocent and was released on his own recognizance several days after his arrival, pending trial.
Lexa was first arrested in Slovakia in 1999 and charged with kidnapping the president's son and auto theft. He was subsequently released and fled Slovakia on a diplomatic passport. He had been missing until July, when South African police found him living in a coastal resort under an assumed name with false papers.
As the Bratislava daily "Pravda" put it today, "The charge of complicity to murder broadens the collection of Lexa's sins to include the most serious sin," adding that "this marks a major shift." In the daily's words, "The former SIS no longer looks like an organization of rogues but of killers."
The kidnapping of Michael Kovac Jr. is widely believed to have been intended to force former Slovak President Michal Kovac to resign. Kovac had become a political rival and impediment to then-Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.
The murdered man, former policeman Robert Remias, had been assisting a former SIS employee, Oskar Fegyveres, a witness to the abduction, in informing the news media about what they said was SIS involvement in the case.
"Ivan Lexa is accused of trying to frighten witnesses, such as Oskar Fegyveres, who testified in 1995 about the abduction. He is accused of having tried to prevent Robert Remias from maintaining contact with Oskar Fegyveres, who at that time had already emigrated," Palko said.
Palko said Lexa is charged with ordering the murder to silence Remias. "Ivan Lexa is accused of having ordered in March 1996 the murder of Robert Remias through Miroslav Sykora in exchange for at least 2 million [Slovak] crowns." Palko said that Sykora, an organized crime boss, hired at least five people to commit the car bombing in Bratislava on 29 April 1996, in which Remias was killed.
Lexa, through his lawyer Lubomir Hlbocan, insists he is innocent of the murder charges, which he described as "fabricated and politically motivated."
Interior Minister Palko says that, at present, about 10 witnesses are under state protection. Asked about the possible involvement of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar in the case, Palko said there is nothing new to report. "I can only say what is already known. Vladimir Meciar was prime minister at the time. Ivan Lexa was his right hand. This is all very well-known. Of course, political accountability arises from this. I cannot comment on the direct legal outcome for Mr. Meciar, as this would be speculation."
Palko conceded that Lexa may well be released from investigative custody yet again. "I can't rule out any complications." He added: "Simply put, what we are facing is not just a single person who was in power and committed a criminal act. Rather, what we are facing is a large group of people who have no scruples and have hundreds of millions of crowns at their disposal. They have the financial means to try to influence matters through illicit means. This is merely a continuation of the Calvary."
The two men suspected of having planted the bomb in Remias's car, Imrich Olah and Jozef Rohac, remain at large. Sykora was shot to death in February 1997 in front of a Bratislava hotel.
Former Slovak President Kovac welcomed Lexa's renewed incarceration, saying it represents a stimulus for the continued efforts of the police, prosecutors, and judges working on the case. Remias's mother, Anna, describes the murder as a political crime and says she believes Meciar and Lexa are responsible for her son's murder.
But the deputy chairman of Meciar's party, Jan Kovarcik, says accusations against Meciar only serve to criminalize the political opposition in Slovakia and constitute a clear provocation prior to today's municipal elections in Slovakia. Meciar, while acting president, granted amnesty to Lexa and others involved in the abduction. It remains for the courts to decide whether those amnesties also apply to the Remias murder.