Slovaks have lost faith in their state apparatus, especially since the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak in February this year. A former detective now claims the Slovak police are entangled in mafia crimes.
Henrieta Brestovanska and 9-year-old Richard were in the wrong place at the wrong time. On December 29, 2004, an assassin linked to the Slovak mafia opened fired on Brestovanska's blue VW car. The intended target was Brestovanska's boyfriend, former police officer Juraj Gal. Instead, the hail of machine-gun bullets hit and killed Gal's son and girlfriend.
The slaying, committed in the suburbs of Bratislava, is one the grisliest mafia murders in the history of post-communist Slovakia, not only because a young woman and a child were killed by mistake, but also because the Slovak state has failed to bring the culprits to justice.
Investigators have long since solved the case. Branislav Adamco, a notoriously violent leader of a group of criminals from southeastern Slovakia, was identified and arrested. But despite having being jailed for life for other murders, he has still not been sentenced for this killing. The mastermind, Karol Mello, has been facing prosecution for years. But he managed to escape to Belize in 2012.
Links between the Slovak state and organized crime
Ivan Chovan, a 47-year-old former detective superintendent, says: "The case illustrates the connections between the police and organized crime, between state institutions and the mafia. This is no exception in our country; it is still widespread today."
Chovan was one of the lead investigators working on the murder of Henrieta Brestovanska and Juraj Gal's son, Richard. But after being bullied and reassigned, he quit the police force in 2012. It is rare for active or former police investigators, like Chovan, to publicly criticize the management of Slovakia's police force, the country's judiciary or its public administration.
But he is merely expressing what most Slovaks, and many of his colleagues, already think: namely that trust in the country's security agencies and the state is extremely low. Even more so after the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee in February this year.
Slovak President Andrej Kiska has repeatedly commented on the case. Most recently, he welcomed the arrest of four suspects in connection with the Kuciak murder but said the police needed to do much more to regain the public's trust. And above all, he stressed, old cases had to finally be closed.
Perverting the course of justice
The mother of Gal's son, Jana Heldova, believes the country's authorities do not actually want Mello to be extradited, because he knows too much about the machinations of leading Slovak bureaucrats and politicians.
Heldova admits, however, that that is hard to prove. There is potential evidence suggesting Boris Drevenak, the longtime head of a unit fighting organized crime, might have something to do with the affair. Drevenak was Chovan's superior when he investigated the 2004 murders; Chovan says Drevenak repeatedly hinted Chovan should stop investigating the case any further. When he kept going, disciplinary action was taken against him. His wife, who works in a textile factory, was told that it would be better for her husband if he dropped the investigation.
DW asked the Slovak police for comment several weeks ago but received no reply. In 2016, Drevenak was arrested and is now on trial for alleged mafia connections. He is accused of various offences, including having betrayed a chief witness testifying against the mafia. The witness, who was under police protection, was killed.
Slovakia still has a long way to go
Due to the bullying by Drevenak, Chovan asked to be reassigned when the investigation closed, and later headed the police's anti-drug department. In 2012, he voluntarily quit the force when the department was restructured and he would have been demoted. Today, he works as a lawyer for Slovakia's technical inspection service.
"It will take a long time until citizens regain trust in the police, and it may take one or two generations until Slovakia turns into a genuinely democratic state that upholds the rule of law," Chovan says with great disillusionment.
Heldova is also deeply disappointed. "Mr. Chovan and the other investigators gave everything," she says. "But 14 years have passed and justice still has not been done. That is shocking."