Why big fish are not in jail

The most infamous corruption cases have been halted by the offices of special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik and police chief Tibor Gašpar.

Special Prosecutor Dušan KováčikSpecial Prosecutor Dušan Kováčik (Source: SME)

Was Prime Minister Robert Fico meeting with controversial business tycoon Jaroslav Haščák and discussing backroom politics? The public remains uninformed because Fico refuses to answer and special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik has not summoned him for a hearing in five years.

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Was former Smer MP Vladimír Jánoš bringing home money from state subsidies for brown coal mines as his wife described in a home-made video? The public does not know because the police led by Tibor Gašpar stated there was no reason to launch a criminal prosecution.

Out of the twenty most infamous corruption cases in Slovakia analysed by the Sme daily, a majority were stopped by Kováčik and Gašpar.

Corruption in Slovakia has reached the point that it is forcing young people to leave the country, according to grammar school students Karolína Farská and Dávid Straka. They decided to organise a student march against corruption on April 18 explaining that they cannot watch one cause replacing another without proper investigation.

They demand that Kováčik and Gašpar, together with Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, step down.

The students correctly named the most problematic persons who hinder the fight against corruption, according to political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov.

“What other demands should they have?” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “Legislation improves but the situation doesn't because responsible persons remain in their seats.”

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Read also: Students will protest against corruption Read more 

How the biggest controversies ended

After Smer became the most powerful party in Slovakia, suspicions were raised that it is financially supported by businessmen that previously supported former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar who brought Slovakia to the brink of international isolation.

Those rumours became more specific after the Sme and Nový Čas dailies published a contract between businessman Ľubomír Blaško and Fedor Flašík, Smer’s former election campaign manager in May 2010. The contract stipulated that if Smer created the government, Blaško’s people would occupy important seats in the energy sector. Fico responded by saying those contracts were fabricated.

Subsequently, Sme published an audio recording featuring a voice strongly resembling that of Smer leader Robert Fico. The recording suggested that Smer had accepted undeclared campaign contributions from off-the-books sponsors.

Special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik did not, however, give specialists an opportunity to prove whether it was Fico’s voice or not. He halted the investigation of Smer’s funding based on the testimonies of both Flašík and Fico, stating that the signatures and voices on the recording, respectively, are not theirs.

This decision prevents investigation which could prove that those documents are authentic or fabricated, then-police chief Jaroslav Spišiak responded.

“It will be possible only to speculate and create theories which will never be the objective truth,” Spišiak told then Sme daily.

The special prosecutor's office halted the investigation claiming that the party sufficiently explained its funding.

The reason why Kováčik halts even partial investigations, such as proving the authenticity of an audio recording, is because he is trying to not offend influential people, according to Mesežnikov.

“The fact that political parties’ top representatives are involved in those cases prevents Kováčik from taking a standard approach,” Mesežnikov said.

Read also: Time and legislation play into the hands of prosecuted businessman Read more 

Even police stopped causes

Anti-corruption activists also criticise the work of the police. For example, when the Financial Administration had a suspicion that businessman Ladislav Bašternák may have committed tax fraud, it notified the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) which is a part of the police, but the complaint was refused in 2014.

The case was reopened only after media reported about it in March 2016 and is still ongoing.

The police also stopped an investigation of the case launched by one of the best-known whistleblowers in Slovakia, Vladimír Suchodolinský. He is a former Military Intelligence Service (VSS) agent who created a report concerning the alleged embezzlement of intelligence service property.

In the report, Suchodolinský described the suspected mishandling of the funds and also the property of VSS by its then-representatives. The document, revealed by the Sme daily in 2013, also informed about the transfers and sales of immovable property, and contained other papers, like cadastre statements and orders from VSS representatives concerning the transfers. After writing the report, he had to leave the army. He passed away in October 2010.

The police under Gašpar stopped the investigation without hearing all key witnesses, for example, new VSS head Ján Balciar whose name was mentioned in the report. When Suchodolinský approached Kováčik, the prosecutor refused to deal with the case.

Dušan Kováčik and Tibor Gašpar are a bottleneck which most cases cannot overcome to make it to court, according to Zuzana Wienk of Fair-play Alliance, the watchdog NGO.

“The biggest problem is, however, in political cover and capture of the entire system,” Wienk told The Slovak Spectator.

Read also: Slovakia stagnates in fight against corruption Read more 

Fico focuses on legislation

Despite activists pointing to those two prosecutors, the prime minister plans to fight corruption with legislative changes.

He asked the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to carry out an audit of Slovak anti-corruption legislation.

“I, as Prime Minister want an objective audit of anti-corruption legislation in Slovakia,” said Fico at a press briefing held in Paris. “But it will be neither journalists, nor opposition leaders who will get to say: this is bad and this is good.”

He also encouraged citizens to inform police when they learn about corruption practices.

In fact, the OECD praised Slovakia for trying to improve its legislation back in 2012 and Transparency International has frequently stated that Slovakia will probably not get higher in its Corruption Index if it focuses solely on legislation.

Slovakia fell to 54th place in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 published by Transparency International. Though it kept the score of 51 points out of 100, it dropped by four positions compared with last year’s edition as the number of surveyed countries increased from 168 to 176.

Slovakia ranked as the seventh worst country in the European Union, leaving only Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Greece and Bulgaria behind.

“We adopted enough anti-corruption laws,” Gabriel Šípoš of Transparency International Slovakia told The Slovak Spectator. “Legislation could improve but the main problem is that it is poorly pursued.”

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