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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 23:41 GMT

World: Europe

Slovak Secret Service accused of kidnap

Seat of Bratislava's political power struggle

By Ray Furlong in Prague

The chief investigator of the kidnapping of the son of Slovakia's former president has announced that the Secret Service masterminded it and that its former head, Ivan Lexa should face criminal charges.

Mr Lexa is a close ally of the former Slovak Prime Minister, Vladimir Meciar, and the investigator, Jaroslav Ivor, did not rule br9inging Mr Meciar into his inquiry.

The new Slovak government has pledged to punish various abuses of power which it says took place during the rule of Mr Meciar. This is the first major case.

Power struggle

The kidnapping of President Michal Kovac's son in August 1995, shocked Slovakia and immediately led to claims that it was carried out by the Secret Service on the orders of Mr Meciar who was then involved in a bitter political struggle with the president.

[ image: Former President Michal Kovac]
Former President Michal Kovac
Now Ivan Lexa, the former Secret Service chief and a close ally of Mr Meciar has been officially accused of organising the kidnapping.

The chief investigator said he would ask parliament to strip Mr Lexa of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution in the next few days.

The announcement came just a few hours after the arrest of two men, both formerly senior Secret Service officers, who were also suspected of working on the kidnap.

Meciar demands proof

In response, Mr Meciar's party said the whole affair was just an attempt to liquidate the opposition in Slovakia and that there was no proof.

But the government seems confident and the police investigator, Jaroslav Ivor, also announced that Mr Meciar's former interior minister would also face charges of abusing his power while in office.

These are the first people to be charged he said, adding that others would follow. Asked whether this might include Mr Meciar himself, Mr Ivor said he could not rule it out.

Spectacular downfall

It's all a cruel fall from grace for Mr Meciar, the man who achieved Slovak independence.

Since his election defeat in September last year, Mr Meciar has almost completely disappeared from public view.

At a rare recent appearance, he physically attacked a Czech journalist and had to be bundled away by his own bodyguards.

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