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Ex-Slovak Premier Is Arrested

April 20, 2000

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) _ Former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar was arrested today for allegedly paying unauthorized bonuses to Cabinet members during his five years in office, police said.

The Slovak news agency TASR said police used explosives to force their way into Meciar’s house in Trenciaske Teplice north of Bratislava.

``Meciar was taken based on the suspicion that he has committed a crime of abuse of power and fraud,″ said police spokesman, Jozef Sitar. Sitar said Meciar was believed to have paid bonuses worth the equivalent of $325,000 to Cabinet members.

Meciar ruled Slovakia as prime minister from the 1993 breakup of Czechoslovakia until 1998. Although he was widely criticized for blocking dissent, clamping down on the media and stifling the economy, he is believed to retain a strong core of support.

Meciar’s arrest occurred after he had refused to appear before police to answer questions in the August 1995 abduction of the son of former President Michal Kovac.

Kovac was Meciar’s main political rival and the kidnapping of his son was widely believed masterminded by Meciar’s agents in the Slovak Intelligence Service. The kidnapping occurred as Kovac was locked in a political struggle with Meciar.

The younger Kovac was released unharmed in neighboring Austria, but allegations that Meciar was involved have dogged him ever since _ despite his denials that he was involved. No one has been charged in the case, and police say the investigation cannot be completed without Meciar’s testimony.

Under Meciar, Slovakia was shunned by the European Union and the United States, which viewed him as authoritarian and undemocratic. The country was excluded from the first group of candidates for European Union membership and failed to be accede to NATO as did three other former communist countries.

After a coalition led by current Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda defeated Meciar’s party in the 1998 elections, Slovakia’s relations with the EU have improved dramatically, and the country was invited to begin membership talks.

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