The shady businesses and friendships of a Slovak leader of the Night Wolves
Dolna Krupa – a village near Trnava in Slovakia (about 60 kilometers from Bratislava) got into direct spotlight during this summer because of its new inhabitants. Pro-Putin motorcycle club the Night Wolves with their European “franchise” came to reside there in an old farm. They painted the buildings into camouflage colors, put up barbed wire around the complex, brought some old army technicals inside and opened their “command post” with the presence of the second-in-command Jevgenij Strogov, as the Wolves’s leader – Alexander Zaldostanov (nickname: “The Surgeon”) is banned from entering EU.
Blog post by Peter Sabo of aktuality.sk
After the location was publicly revealed, the members of the Night Wolves even threatened international journalists that they would use a gun against them and their drone.
Some of the protagonists of that coverage connected to the Night Wolves have already been the protagonists of the stories Jan Kuciak – the murdered Slovak investigative journalist had worked on.
First of all we need to introduce the “president” of MC Night Wolves Europe, Jozef Hambálek. Hambálek is a Slovak citizen, proudly presenting himself as part of the Wolves family. He is a friend of Zaldostanov and his Facebook profile is full of pro-Russian statements, along with videos of him bathing in Crimea and chanting Russian military battle cry “urra”.
Looking into Hambálek’s history, we would find that he started as an importer of motorcycles into Slovakia in the 90’s. He was mainly importing bikes made in Japan along with the all-American legend Harley Davidson. During those years he became known in the growing bikers community in Slovakia and as he personally claims – it was then that he got to know Slovakia’s future minister of interior, lawyer Robert Kaliňák. Hambálek even says they were together on various week-long trips, riding their choppers in USA. Even years later, Kaliňák regrets that he is not meeting Hambálek often enough and they should get together more often.
This old friendship opened new possibilities for Hambálek, as he in early 2000’s started to focus on his other hobby – military technology. He founded a voluntary firefighters organization in a small village called Pole, just outside Trnava. It quickly turned out that the fire brigade wouldn’t be a usual one. He brought in various ex-army tanks and other military vehicles and turned them into firefighting equipment. All of this would not have happened without the help of the ministry of interior (which was led by Kaliňák), ministry of economy, state-owned companies Nafta and Transpetrol and their generous donations. Hambálek’s personal fire brigade quickly became number one first-responder unit when heavy machinery is needed. This status granted an opportunity for the fire-brigade to be part of the so-called economic mobilisation unit (“subjekt hospodárskej mobilizácie”). This might mean that Hambálek probably got access to secret information on responding to emergency situations in Slovakia and lots more.
Then Kaliňák’s friend, Hambálek, became fascinated by the Night Wolves and soon became one of the club’s highest ranking members and its European president.
What Jan Kuciak uncovered was that Hambálek made business together with Kaliňák’s lawyer, Marek Turčan. Turčan even owned part of Hambálek’s company for three years. Hambálek was also doing business with brother of Ladislav Bašternák, notoriously known tax offender and business partner of Kaliňák. Ex-prime minister Robert Fico still lives in an apartment that belongs to Bašternák.
As Kuciak found out, in 2016 Hambálek was in tax debt for more than 200 thousand euros. According to Hambálek, the reason was unpaid invoices to his company by third parties.
After making Hambálek´s position in the Night Wolves public, journalists and volunteers soon found out that in the complex near Trnava, Hambálek was helping to train a paramilitary organization “Slovenskí branci” with his restored cold war era armoured personnel carrier. Slovenskí branci are, as they speak, national-focused militia. They are often perceived as an anti-Nato and pro-Russian group.
After media took interest in the base, suspecting it might be a possible threat to the national safety, even “The Surgeon” reacted on his Facebook – trying to tone down the criticism. He called the base just a ‚‚clubhouse‘‘ and a museum. According to Zaldostanov, we were witnesses to hysteria caused by liberal Western media and propaganda machine. Zaldostanov sees ‚‚exposition‘‘ in Dolna Krupa only as a positive project.
Journalists found out that a number of military equipment in the so-called museum (and Night Wolves’ command post) have been borrowed from the Institute of Military History. A few days after this discovery, the minister of defense recalled this contract and requested old equipment back from Hambálek´s hands. On top of this, ministry of economy officers found out that Hambálek “forgot” to report his military equipment and they gave him highest possible fine, 30 000€.
It is clear that Hambálek and Kaliňák have unusually close bond, not only as fellow bikers but also in business. Even after the information surfaced that Hambálek is the leader of the Europe’s Night Wolves, Kaliňák is still on his side.
Just as a reminder, Kaliňák as the ex-minister of interior and still a member of the Defence and Security Committee of the National Council, is a person with access to the top secret information. In some countries people like Hambálek would be considered as a serious security risk for the country.