Refusal to lift ex-PM Fico’s immunity casts doubts on Slovakia’s coalition government

The Parliament of Slovakia voted on May 4th to preserve the immunity of former Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico, allowing him to avoid pre-trial custody in a case that accuses Fico of having founded a criminal group while in office.

Fico, a deputy with the opposition Social Democratic party (Smer), has been charged by the National Crime Agency earlier this year for having led a criminal organisation during his second term as PM, along with former Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, who was arrested late last month.

Fico, meanwhile, has continuously denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the charges against him are politically motivated and intended to undermine the opposition against the incumbent ruling coalition of OLaNO, We Are Family, Freedom and Solidarity and For the People.

Fico has denied any wrongdoing, saying the charges brought last month were politically motivated. He also claimed that the case against him and his former interior minister, Robert Kalinak, was designed to destroy the political opposition.

The vote’s outcome is regarded as an important defeat for the leading party of the country’s majority coalition, OLaNO, and especially Fico’s long-term political rival and OLaNO chair Igor Matovič, in light of the fact that two deputies from his party did not support the motion against Fico. According to sources, there is a growing sense of personal vulnerability among coalition MPs regarding the legality of certain steps taken by anti-corruption officials.

Indeed, under the OLaNO-led government, the fight against corruption has noticeably intensified. However, the methods and targets have come under increasing criticism, in particular the prosecution’s use of collusive detention, originally intended to prevent suspects from sabotaging ongoing investigations.

Yet in OLaNO’s anti-corruption campaign, the practice has become a key method for “flipping” witnesses and extracting information, with questions arising about the method’s lawfulness and incompatibility with European human rights standards. In January 2022, a judge from the Bratislava Regional Court referred to collusive detention as a “witness factory” designed to exert psychological pressure on detainees to cooperate with authorities and testify against others.

The related issue of deferred trials, a violation of an individual’s right to trial without undue delay, has been also been a priority of the Constitutional Court, with “several groups’ cases have been examined by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).”

The opposition has levied allegations against the government as well that the anti-corruption campaign is more of a political witch hunt with the objective to destroy the opposition than a genuine attempt at fighting corruption. For example, a Smer representative has claimed that 16 cases of “major violations of fundamental rights and freedoms” were confirmed by Slovakia’s Constitutional Court over the last two years.

What’s clear is that the coalition is now staring down a crisis. The outcome of the vote could signal a growing desire of some deputies to distance themselves from the perceived excesses of the anti-corruption campaign at a time when Slovakia’s rule of law has received special attention from the EU. As OLaN moved to expel Roman Tabák and Katarína Hatráková, the deputies that had refused to vote in favour of waiving Fico’s immunity, the coalition’s ability is to survive is now more in doubt than ever.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor and Brussels correspondent of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

In October 2021 POLITICO described Gary as "the busiest man in Brussels!"

He is a of member the Chartered Institute of Journalists, a professional association for journalists, the senior such body in the UK, and the oldest in the world having been founded in October 1884

Gary's most recent book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/WANTE...

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