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Will Matovič leave parliament?

Opposition OĽaNO MP is one vote away from being losing his parliamentary seat as a punishment for having an active business licence. The ruling Smer has been building a case against him, accusing him of tax fraud.

Igor Matovič in parliament.(Source: TASR)

The fate of MP Igor Matovič is in the hands of his fellow deputies in the parliament. At their May plenary session they are expected to vote on whether he should remain one of them, or leave the house altogether.

Matovič, the leader of the opposition Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), faces being stripped of his parliamentary mandate as a punishment for his business licence having been active in conjunction with his previous election tenure, which is prohibited by law. He has already been fined €12,000 for the year 2013 when his business licence was active for 21 days after the start of his election term. The fine was later confirmed by the Constitutional Court. Shortly after the first fine, the information surfaced that Matovič’s business licence was restored again last September.

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“He has a chance to prove whether the mistake was deliberate or unintentional,” said Smer MP Jozef Burian, as quoted by Sme, speaking after the session of the parliamentary committee on conflicts of interest that on March 28 approved the proposal to strip Matovič of his mandate.

The parliament would have to approve such a step with the qualified majority of at least 90 votes in the plenum of 150 MPs. Though opposition MPs will not vote in favour of the motion, it is unclear what MPs of the coalition Most-Híd will do, while the extremists from ĽSNS might also become a decisive factor in the vote.

Smer and SNS, meanwhile, speak to the effect that their MPs will vote for ousting Matovič. Especially Smer has been targeting the MP in recent weeks. Observers tend to see their recent attacks on Matovič, particularly on the part of Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák and Košice Mayor Richard Raši, as an attempt to spin the event in their favour, and present Matovič as a fraudster who only went into politics to avoid punishment for his alleged murky business practices.

Case against Matovič

In the weeks running up to the vote on Matovič’s future in the parliament, several politicians of the ruling Smer party have called for his departure. They say it is necessary to also take into account the suspicions of tax evasion raised against Matovič in the past.

This happened shortly after several media outlets received anonymously a police decision which indicated that the criminal prosecution in Matovič’s case of alleged tax fraud, which was medialised repeatedly over the past seven years, was stopped because it was time-barred.

“The deed has happened,” Smer MP and Košice Mayor Richard Raši, who served in the past as health minister, told the April 20 press conference, as quoted by Sme. “Igor Matovič really committed tax crimes, he robbed the state and his past is catching him up.”

Tax officers investigated Matovič in connection with entering three items into the company accounts between the years 2002 and 2004: a printing press, travel compensation for driving a company car, and a transformer station.

The last problem concerns the statement about the kilometres driven in a company car which Matovič borrowed from his cousin, Martin Viskupič. In this case there was a suspicion that he decreased the taxes payable by €12,000, according to Denník N.

Back in 2004 Matovič claimed that he drove more than 200,000 kilometres with the car, which accounts for some 600 kilometres a day. This, however, does not seem very probable even though Matovič’s company has subsidiaries across Slovakia and in that year he had to travel to Germany often due to the printing machine.

Smer MPs also pointed to the fact that in 2016 the number of driven kilometres on the car was very low. Yet the fact is that before 2016 the vehicle had changed hands several times and the new owners could have manipulated the number of driven kilometres, Denník N reported.

This case is related to another accusation of Smer deputies, who have claimed that Matovič misused his mother when committing tax fraud. They used the information that Matovič was often accompanied by his mother when travelling, according to the daily.

Matovič responded to Raši’s accusations, saying that he will not give up his mandate. Moreover, he is ready to submit a criminal complaint against Raši, for false accusation. The MP also told the press on April 20 that investigator Štefan Menčík, who according to Matovič has been dealing for the past two years only with his cases, has recently been promoted to the post of leader of the West division of the National Anti-Corruption Unit.

He pointed to the fact that Menčík first supervised Matovič’s own criminal complaint submitted against Radoslav Procházka in connection with financing his presidential campaign. At the time, Menčík “swept it under the carpet”, as reported by TASR.

He allegedly later published the recording Matovič made when meeting Procházka and sent a police raid to his company. One month before the elections, the investigator started acting as a dogsbody of PM Robert Fico, Matovič claimed.

One day later, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák responded to the claims by saying that no politician in any country can afford to attack an individual police investigator about whom he or she knows they cannot defend themselves.

“This can be done only by a coward,” said Kaliňák, as quoted by TASR, adding that Matovič has been blackmailing several politicians as well as journalists.

Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar, who also attended the press conference, has rejected any suspicions of Menčík being promoted as a reward. He explained that the investigator has been serving in various posts during his 12-year police career.

Kaliňák also denied Matovič’s claim that Smer had been keeping the evidence against him since 2010 in a drawer, because at that time they worked on the Roma reform together. In the end, the deeds became time-barred. He also said that Matovič probably entered politics just to avoid sanctions for his frauds.

The interior minister also said that Matovič is bold enough to make such statements only from the parliament as he knows he cannot be prosecuted for them due to immunity, as reported by TASR.

Matovič responded by saying he would submit a criminal complaint against Kaliňák for his statements concerning the alleged threats against politicians and journalists, and called on Gašpar to start a criminal prosecution against him in this matter.

He claimed that altogether 17 lies were said during Kaliňák’s press conference. As he wanted to prove that he does not try to seek immunity, Matovič spoke to journalists in front of the parliament’s building. He called Kaliňák corrupted and called on him to submit a criminal complaint, as reported by TASR.

Meanwhile, another opposition party, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), claimed that the police led by Kaliňák and Gašpar intimidate and oust opposition representatives based on a political order.

“The case of opposition politician Igor Matovič is a living testimony that nothing can stop Robert Kaliňák and that he is ready to use any, even the dirtiest, methods to get rid of anybody who stands in his way or the way of somebody from his party,” said SaS MP Ľubomír Galko, as quoted by SITA.

Smer MP goes without fine

While Matovič might lose his mandate due to an active trade licence, the parliamentary committee for incompatibility of functions did not proceed in such a strict manner in the case of a Smer MP. They decided not to impose a fine of €108,000 on MP Stanislav Kubánek, as originally proposed by committee members.

Coalition MPs supported him, and MP Jozef Burian of Smer proposed on April 4 to launch a new proceeding against him, in which Kubánek would get two fines: one for not suspending his licence, and another one for being a legal representative of a trade company.

OĽaNO claims that the ruling coalition has double standards for its own, and for opposition MPs.

“The coalition uses two unequal metres for the situation,” OĽaNO MP Jozef Lukáč said, pointing out that Stanislav Kubánek has been violating the law by not suspending his licence for 3,285 days, thus facing a fine of €108,000.

On the other hand, Matovič had his self-employment licence active simultaneously with his parliamentary mandate for a mere 21 days, yet the result is the loss of his mandate, and a fine of €12,000.

“Government MPs are only looking for a way to reduce or cancel his fine... While he has been violating the law for nine years,” Viskupič told SITA, adding that Matovič's mistake was a formality but Kubánek was, in all likelihood, really doing business.

Opposition: He should stay

The opposition criticised the attempts to rid Matovič of his mandate. The chair of the committee, Martin Poliačik of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) said Matovič has not violated the law twice during the same election tenure. Thus, he should have received only a fine, as reported by Sme.

Smer MP Róbert Puci indicated that Matovič knew about his business licence being renewed and is only setting out to provoke with this case.

Matovič, however, reiterated that he did not earn a single euro as he actually did not do any business. He compared his case with that of Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák (Smer) and his dubious trade with businessman Ladislav Bašternák for which he has not been punished by the committee.

If Matovič loses his mandate, he may still turn to the Constitutional Court and sit in parliament until the court issues a ruling.

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