Slovakia postpones reform of special anti-corruption office

2023 11 20T162419Z 2 LYNXMPEJAJ0LU RTROPTP 4 SLOVAKIA GOVERNMENT scaled
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's newly appointed Prime Minister Robert Fico attends the new cabinet's inauguration, at the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, October 25, 2023. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo

The contentious revision of Slovakia’s criminal code, aimed at abolishing the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office by the populist government led by Robert Fico, has been delayed until January due to opposition blockage.

Originally, the coalition government, comprising left-wing populists and ultranationalists, sought to enact the legislative changes through emergency procedures before Christmas. However, their efforts were unsuccessful, prompting them to wait until January.

The reform has faced criticism from Brussels, where the European Commission has urged a “comprehensive and thorough analysis,” citing its extensive scope that intersects with various EU laws.

The Special Prosecutor’s Office is currently managing several significant corruption cases involving politicians from Robert Fico’s SMER party. Figures such as former police chief Tibor Gaspar, deputy speaker of parliament Peter Ziga, central bank governor Peter Kazimir, and the former head of the intelligence services are among those under investigation. This prosecutor’s office is also overseeing inquiries into oligarchs suspected of corruption related to agricultural subsidies and public contracts, as well as cases involving tax crimes and harassment of journalists.

The government’s proposed legislation has triggered two large-scale citizen protests, organised by progressive, liberal, and Christian Democrat parliamentary opposition groups. These groups have declared their intention to continue street protests if Fico’s government persists in its plans.

Fico, returning to power for the fourth time, led his scandal-prone leftist party to victory in Slovakia’s parliamentary election on September 30 with a pro-Russia and anti-American platform. Critics are concerned that his return may divert Slovakia from its pro-Western trajectory, potentially aligning more with Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Since Fico’s government assumed power, elite investigators and police officials dealing with high-profile corruption cases have been dismissed or placed on leave. The proposed legal changes also include a reduction in penalties for corruption.

In contrast, the preceding government, which came into power in 2020 with an anti-corruption agenda, saw numerous senior officials, police officers, judges, prosecutors, politicians, and businesspeople associated with Fico’s party being charged and convicted of corruption and other offences.

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