Top-ranking officials have been removed from office or arrested in Slovakian Prime Minister Igor Matovič’s anti-corruption drive in the small Central-Eastern European country. Prime Minister Matovič, who came to office in February this year on an anti-corruption and organized crime platform, is widely credited with the downfall of previously untouchable and all-powerful officials, police chiefs and politicians.
The latest person to be stripped of his position and arrested is the former head of the Office of Special Prosecutions Dušan Kováčik, who is accused of malfeasance in office, corruption, taking bribes and assisting a criminal organization. He has been taken into custody by officers from the Slovakian National Criminal Agency (NAKA).
The irony is that all these types of serious offenses, such as organized crime and corruption, fell under the very jurisdiction of the office headed by Kováčik.
He was reportedly turned in by one of his own employees, Ľudovít Makó, the former head of the Financial Services Criminal investigation unit, who himself is accused of a range of serious crimes, such as cooperation with a criminal gang and extortion. Makó has decided to enter a plea bargain and to co-operate with the investigation, a decision that led to the arrest of his former boss.
Questions are being raised as how a person with such extensive ties to organized crime as Kováčik could hold an office for over 16 years, throughout the terms of several governments. He was nominated to this top crime-fighting position by the then Attorney General Dobroslav Trnka, who is currently also facing charges of abuse of power and ties to the alleged head of the Slovakian underworld, Marian Kočner.
The turning point in the fortunes of the untouchable class has been the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in 2018. The public outcry followed by mass demonstrations led to the fall of former Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Some of his close associates have been found to have contacts with the criminal underworld, most notably with Marian Kočner himself.
Despite the serious allegations Kováčik was facing, and the fact that he was in custody, he was still formally head of the Special Prosecutions Office until Nov. 12, when he has voluntarily resigned from his position. Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputová has called the decision “logical“, given the serious nature of the allegations the former special prosecutor is now facing. MP Alojz Baránik called Kováčik a symbol of corruption and the failure of the rule of law under the government of former Prime Minister Robert Fico.
The wave of anti-corruption arrests was part of two major investigations named Búrka (Storm) and Víchrica (Hurricane), while a third one called Očistec (Purgatory) promises to target more corrupt police officers, politicians and judges.
So, who else was netted by the anti-corruption drive? Former Police President Tibor Gašpar is in custody and accused of abuse of power in public office, supporting a criminal group, and corruption in connection with his ties to a criminal group stealing European development funds.
The former head of the police’s anti-corruption unit NAKA, Róbert Krajmer, has also been arrested after the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak. He had to answer questions such as what he was doing in the village where the murders have taken place and how he knew that the journalist was writing about the Italian mafia when this fact was not published yet.
The former head of NAKA, Peter Hraško, is also in custody facing charges of obstructing the investigation of the murdered journalist and of ties to organized crime. After his arrest, Hraško expierenced a mental breakdown and is currently hospitalized.
His deputy, Milan Mihálik, is currently facing accusations of ties with organized crime, as he was photographed with one of the most notorious leaders of the Slovak underworld at a hotel resort. Mihálik has also allegedly supplied information about various businessmen to Marian Kočner.
Others targeted in the government’s corruption takedown include top lawyer and businessman Zoroslav Kollár, the former head of Administration of State Material Reserves Kajetán Kičura, and 13 judges, with the most prominent among them a high ranking official at the Ministry of Justice, Monika Jankovská. Her nickname among organized criminals was “little monkey“.
Although the arrests of high-ranking officials and criminal figures is extremely popular among many Slovakians, the entire affair has unmasked a deep-rooted systemic corruption that reaches into the top-tiers of the political establishment. Even though Slovakia is currently ranked as the 59th most corrupt country by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the country and its successive governments have rarely been singled out for criticism or subjected to rule of law proceedings by the European Union’s relevant institutions or among its leaders.
Due to the Slovakian elite’s political ambitions within the Euro structures, the country has always been regarded as the weakest link in the Visegrád 4 alliance, which also consists of Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Despite serious incidents as a racist murder of a foreigner in 2019 or the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, the Slovakia’s leaders have been treated with leniency by the European ruling elite.