Onetime Slovak strongman Robert Fico has been charged with running an organised criminal group, as part of an anti-corruption drive launched by the current centre-right government. The case could destroy his political career or become another own goal for the government if police fail to make the charges stick.
Fico resigned in 2018 during huge public protests following the assassination of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova. Kuciak was investigating high-level political corruption when he was killed. Businessman Marian Kocner is being retried on charges of having ordered his murder after the first court found him not guilty.
Fico, Slovak three-time premier and chair of the opposition party Smer-SD, and Robert Kalinak, former interior minister in Fico´s government (also Smer-SD), have been charged by the National Crime Agency (NAKA) with setting up and running an organised criminal group, according to daily Dennik N. Both politicians have also been allegedly charged with jeopardising confidential tax information.
Kalinak has been already detained, while Fico as an MP can only be detained with the consent of parliament. The parliament office has not received a request for consent to detain Fico yet.
As reported by the Slovak News Agency, the case is related to the Purgatory case, which led to charges of corruption against a number of former police officers, including senior ones.
In the Purgatory case (Ocistec), which includes alleged attempts to control the police in 2012 through a group around Nitra-based oligarch Norbert Bodorthe, the police have already charged several Slovak high-ranking former officials, including former national police chief Tibor Gaspar, special prosecutor Dusan Kovacik and the former head of NAKA Robert Krajmer. The fact that the charges against Fico and Kalinak have only now come out suggests that the accused in the case may have provided evidence that pointed to them.
The ruling four-party centre-right government was elected in 2020 on a platform of fighting against corruption. Several senior officials, police officers, judges, prosecutors, politicians and business people have been charged with corruption and other crimes, though there have not yet been many convictions. The high-profile arrest of Jaroslav Hascak, the then head of investment group Penta Group, led to an embarrassing climbdown and the tycoon is now demanding an apology or compensation.
Slovak PM Eduard Heger (OLaNO) stated that the decision of the NAKA to press charges against Fico and Kalinak was autonomous. Interior Minister Roman Mikulec (also OLaNO) refused to comment on the case.
Justice Minister Maria Kolikova stated that law and justice must apply to everyone. "It's been obvious from the beginning that the corruption that is being exposed reaches the most senior representatives of previous governments," she said, according to the news agency.
"I have confidence that they have done everything possible to ensure that the charges in such a case really stand on solid ground," she added.
"I respect this, it's the approach by law enforcement. We're all equal before the law. The only thing I can say about this is that we must wait for the next procedural steps, to be taken by investigators and the prosecutor's office," commented President Zuzana Caputova.
According to Veronika Remisova, investment minister and head of the coalition For the People party, Fico shouldn't hide behind his MP's immunity and should give up his seat in parliament.
Fico sees the criminal charges as political vengeance, stating that he is being charged for the sole reason that he was the PM in 2006-10 and 2012-18 and talked openly about tax frauds of OLaNO chair Igor Matovic and ex-president Andrej Kiska.
"NAKA raised political accusations against me as an opposition leader for the fourth time. Not because I'm suspected of corruption or any other economic criminal activities, but because I'm doing my job as an opposition politician," Fico said, as quoted by the news agency, adding that his party has been drawing attention to the incompetence of the current government as well as the president.
"In the indictment, they literally cooked up a story of how I allegedly formed a criminal group that was supposed to cause harm to [former President Andrej] Kiska, [OLaNO leader and current Finance Minister Igor] Matovic and [We Are Family leader Boris] Kollar," he said.
He also said that charges against Kalinak go beyond the limits of the rule of law and democracy. "It's an obvious attempt by criminal groups in NAKA and the Special Prosecutor's Office to eliminate the effective defence for the defendants in the cases of obvious bending of justice and manipulation of criminal prosecutions to the detriment of opposition nominees," Fico was quoted by the news agency as saying.
Fico´s and Kalinak´s defence attorney David Lindtner said it was a political attack. He would prefer to have the case assigned under the Prosecutor-General's Office.
Lindtner claimed that a number of aggrieved parties in the case hold state posts, such as Matovic, Parliament Chair Boris Kollar (We Are Family), Special Prosecutor Daniel Lipsic and prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor's Office Vasil Spirko. That is a reason why Lindtner thinks that the Special Prosecutor's Office is hardly treating the case in an unbiased and independent way.