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Former Slovak prime minister, allies charged with organized crime – POLITICO

BRATISLAVA — Two men who have dominated Slovakian politics for the past 15 years — former three-time prime minister Róbert Fico and former interior minister Róbert Kaliňák — were charged on Wednesday with organized crime offenses .

Kaliňák was arrested by police on Wednesday morning while fishing with his wife and sons near Bratislava.

Fico, still a member of the opposition party Smer, cannot be arrested without the consent of the legislative body. If convicted, they each face up to 12 years in prison.

According to David Lindtner, a lawyer representing Fico and Kaliňák, the charges against his clients relate to acts they allegedly committed as Cabinet members between 2012 and 2018, when Smer anchored successive ruling coalitions. The pair allegedly used classified tax files to wage smear campaigns against political rivals, including former president Andrej Kiska and Boris Kollár, currently speaker of Slovakia’s parliament.

The indictment alleges that Fico headed a “criminal organization” that also included former police chief Tibor Gašpár, as well as Slovak oligarch Norbert Bodor.

“They made up this story about how I supposedly created a criminal group that would have harmed Kiska, Kollár and [Special Prosecutor Daniel] Lipšic,” Fico said in a written statement released Wednesday, blaming the “criminal structures” of the National Police and the Special Prosecutor’s Office. “The list of plaintiffs is proof that this is political revenge.”

In 2014, while serving his second term as Prime Minister of Slovakia, Fico also ran for president, but lost to Kiska by nearly 20 percentage points. During an unusually bitter campaign, Fico accused Kiska of “making her money through the usury of the poor”, “misusing her charity for political gain” and having “close ties to Scientology. “.

In 2017 – the year Fico and Kaliňák allegedly gained unauthorized access to tax documents – the Prime Minister, then in his third term, began calling President Kiska a “tax cheat”.

But the 2018 murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, 28, and his fiancée Martina Kušnirová ended Fico’s premiership and toppled his government. The publication of thousands of private messages between Kuciak’s alleged killers and the police, judges and ruling coalition politicians has galvanized the electorate and brought the ordinary people’s anti-corruption movement to power in 2020.

Under new political leadership, Slovak police arrested more than a dozen former high-ranking officers – many with the organized crime unit – as well as former SIS intelligence chief Vladimír Pčolinský. The charges include embezzlement, leaking police information to gangsters from a local organized crime group, abuse of power and sabotage.

But the country has not seen elite politicians handcuffed since the turn of the century, following the brutal rule of then Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, a time when Slovakia was described as a “black hole on the map of Europe” by the American Secretary. of State Madeleine Albright.

“Finally, it’s the turn of the people at the top of the pyramid,” Deputy Prime Minister Veronika Remišová said during Kaliňák’s questioning on Wednesday afternoon.

Several members of the ruling coalition have pledged to support a motion to strip Fico of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution, which would allow his arrest.

“Our members have already approved it,” the Freedom and Solidarity party said in a press release hours after police confirmed the charges.

“I expect them to confiscate my passport,” said Fico, whose interview with police is scheduled for April 26.