Slovakia suspected of role in abduction of Vietnamese official

Trinh Xuan Thanh jailed for life after being snatched in Berlin

Former Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak called the story about Trinh Xuan Thanh’s abduction “science fiction”. Photograph: Tomas Benedikovic/AFP/Getty Images

Former Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak called the story about Trinh Xuan Thanh’s abduction “science fiction”. Photograph: Tomas Benedikovic/AFP/Getty Images

 

Slovakia is under mounting pressure over its alleged role in the kidnapping of a former Vietnamese official who was snatched in Berlin and resurfaced in a courtroom in his homeland, where he was jailed for life.

Trinh Xuan Thanh, previously a senior executive at a state company in Vietnam, was bundled into a van in broad daylight in Berlin’s Tiergarten park last July, as he awaited a decision on his asylum application in Germany.

A week later, Vietnamese state media said Mr Thanh (52) had voluntarily appeared in court to face corruption charges, but Germany accused Hanoi of abduction and expelled the Berlin station chief of its intelligence agency.

Last month, a German court convicted a Vietnamese man of helping his country’s secret services kidnap Mr Thanh, and found that a Slovak government aircraft had flown him out of Bratislava. In January, Mr Thanh was jailed for life for embezzlement and breaking state regulations.

His abduction in Berlin coincided with a visit to Bratislava of Vietnam’s public security minister, To Lam, who allegedly met then Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak before leaving on the government aircraft with his delegation.

According to Slovak media, several people were added to Mr Lam’s delegation when the ministers met at a Bratislava hotel – allegedly the kidnapped Mr Thanh and the Vietnamese agents who drove him to Slovakia from Germany.

Dishevelled appearance

Slovakia’s Dennik N newspaper quoted an unnamed Slovak police officer as saying that he and colleagues had been told that Mr Kalinak knew of the operation, and that Mr Thanh’s dishevelled appearance was a result of his having fallen down stairs while drunk.

Mr Kalinak has called the story “science fiction”, but as details of his alleged role continue to emerge, he privately arranged to take a lie-detector test on the controversy and released results on Tuesday that he claimed prove his innocence.

A deputy chairman of Slovakia’s ruling Smer party, Mr Kalinak served as interior minister for 10 of the last 12 years before being forced to resign in March. He stepped down, along with several other officials including then prime minister Robert Fico, after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova.

Mr Kuciak had uncovered links between political figures close to Mr Fico and alleged Italian mafia members, and his murder – which has not been solved – fuelled major protests and suspicion towards the Slovak elite.

Slovakia’s Smer-led government has pledged to co-operate with Germany and allow police officers to testify in the kidnapping case.

Slovak president Andrej Kiska said this week, however, that he did not trust current interior minister Denisa Sakova to investigate the matter impartially.

She was “acting as though she is the right hand” of Mr Kalinak, he said, describing her efforts as “as an ill-concealed attempt to hide all traces and protect the former leadership” from culpability.