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Prosecutor orders NAKA to launch investigation into farm subsidy fraud

Agricultural state offices last week initiated a motion opening the investigation of a vast fraud, in which more and more facts about the blatant misuse of EU funds have been surfacing.

The abandoned airport near Trhovište(Source: Korzár - Katarína Gécziová)

A prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office (ÚŠP) instructed the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) to launch an investigation into the case of agricultural subsidies for the Agro Porúbka company.

“Based on last week's information in the media, the prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office economic criminal department instructed NAKA on March 28, 2018 to launch an investigation into the provision of agricultural subsidies for Agro Porúbka,” ÚŠP spokesperson Jana Tökölyová told the TASR newswire on April 3.

Ministry and PPA file a motion

Last week, the Agriculture Ministry and the Agricultural Paying Agency (PPA) declared that they had a serious suspicion of subsidy fraud committed with farmland in eastern Slovakia. They filed a criminal complaint with the General Prosecutor’s Office on March 27, launched inspections and vowed to take other resolute measures.

Read also:Minister Matečná points to serious agricultural subsidy fraud suspicions

The Denník N daily broke news of suspected fraud with farm subsidies in which former Smer district chief Lubica Rošková was allegedly involved. Her firm Agro Porúbka reportedly received farm subsidies for plots of land it neither owns nor cultivates. The firm obtained €40,000 from EU funds for 2017. Based on the media information, the PPA checked its information system for all direct payments going to Agro Porúbka and identified the relevant farm areas. It found that the Soil Science and Conservation Research Institute (VÚPOP) had failed to update areas depicted in ortho-photo maps and it verified in the system areas that should not have been there. These included, for example, the false registering of a parking lot as arable land.

A comprehensive inspection showed that the company applied for subsidies related to a total of 470 hectares of area in 170 specific plots of land in eastern Slovakia.

Mysterious “farming airport”

Another case involving Rošková and her company is that of an abandoned airport near the village of Trhovište in the eastern Slovak district of Michalovce. Unlike neighbouring plots, farmed by the local agricultural cooperative, the airport is definitely not used for farming – and the only thing that could indicate this is a heap of muck, which belongs to the cooperative.

The airport, unused for long years (and previously used for the operation of crop busters) and owned by the Trhovište cooperative, cannot be used anymore, the regional daily Korzár wrote on April 4. Chairperson of the cooperative Janka Fazekasová told Korzár that they bought the tarmac plot back in 2010 from Agrocentrum Michalovce, so that they could get to adjacent lands in order to manage and cultivate them. In winter, they found out through ortho-photo maps that a company declared the airport as farmland. However they did not take any steps, Fazekasová said, since the land under the airport does not belong to them but to two private individuals.

Read also:Slovakia investigated for alleged EU funds abuse

Rošková, who allegedly cultivates the airport, has never been seen by the mayor of Trhovište, Róbert Koba (Smer party), nor is she known among locals, he told Korzár.

NAKA taking over

Since the start of the scandal, Rošková has not communicated with media. The ex-MP of the ruling Smer party has returned to her original profession of psychologist, and refuses to comment on the farming subsidies.

It seems, though, that so far, the media have discovered only the tip of the iceberg concerning agricultural subsidies. The NAKA investigation could shed more light on Rošková's activities.

Possible “top-level connections”

The bad news is, according to Denník N, that Rošková managed to escape the network of audits and checks, including the most recent satellite audits – which checked on all plots and parts of the land in the Zemplín area of eastern Slovakia, except for the ones her company took subsidies for. This points to corruption at a deeper level, and Rošková’s good contacts in this field. She must have been on best terms either with someone from the PPA, or directly at the ministry.

There is one connection that points directly to the incumbent Agriculture Minister Gabriela Matečná (a nominee of the coalition SNS party). When still at the helm of the Slovak Land Fund (then as Smer nominee), she signed contracts with Rošková to rent several hundreds of hectares of state land – and some of the contracts are valid until 2042, which is an unusual step for a state authority.

Minister Matečná and PPA head Juraj Kožuch admit a possible “agri-mafia” and fraud but try to shift the responsibility to their subordinates, the researchers in charge of the digitalisation of fields and their maps.

New facts indicate that suspicions may reach even higher.

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Topic: Corruption & scandals

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