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Former Slovak PM, allies charged with organized crime

BRATISLAVA — Two men who have dominated Slovakia’s politics for the past 15 years — former three-time Prime Minister Róbert Fico and former Interior Minister Róbert Kaliňák — were charged Wednesday with organized crime offenses.

Kaliňák was arrested by police on Wednesday morning while fishing with his wife and sons near Bratislava.

Fico, still serving as a member of parliament for the opposition Smer party, cannot be arrested without the consent of the legislature. If convicted, they could each face up to 12 years in jail.

According to David Lindtner, a lawyer representing Fico and Kaliňák, the charges against his clients relate to acts they allegedly committed as Cabinet members between 2012 and 2018, when Smer anchored successive ruling coalitions. The two men supposedly used classified tax files to wage smear campaigns against political rivals, including former President Andrej Kiska and Boris Kollár, currently Slovakia’s speaker of parliament.

The indictment alleges that Fico was the head of a “criminal organization” that also included former police chief Tibor Gašpár, as well as Slovak oligarch Norbert Bodor.

“They invented this story about how I supposedly created a criminal group that allegedly harmed Kiska, Kollár and [Special Prosecutor Daniel] Lipšic,” Fico said in a written statement issued Wednesday, blaming “criminal structures” in the national police force and the Special Prosecutor’s Office. “The list of plaintiffs is proof that this is about political revenge.”

In 2014, while serving his second term as Slovak prime minister, Fico also ran for the presidency, but lost to Kiska by almost 20 percentage points. During an unusually bitter campaign, Fico accused Kiska of “earning his money from usury on poor people,” of “misusing his charity for political ends,” and of having “close ties to Scientology.”

In 2017 — the year that Fico and Kaliňák allegedly gained unauthorized access to tax documents — the prime minister, then in his third term, began calling President Kiska “a tax cheat.”

But the 2018 murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, 28, and his fiancée Martina Kušnirová ended Fico’s premiership and brought down his government. The release of thousands of private messages between Kuciak’s alleged killers and police, judges and ruling-coalition politicians galvanized the electorate and swept the anti-corruption Ordinary People movement to power in 2020.

Under new political stewardship, Slovakia’s police have arrested over a dozen former high-ranking officers — many with the organized crime unit — along with the former head of the SIS secret service, Vladimír Pčolinský. Charges include embezzlement, leaking police information to gangsters with a local organized crime group, abuse of office and sabotage.

But the country has not seen elite political figures in handcuffs since the turn of the century, following the thuggish rule of then-Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, an era when Slovakia was described as a “black hole on the map of Europe” by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“Finally it’s the turn of people at the top of the pyramid,” said Deputy Prime Minister Veronika Remišová as Kaliňák was interrogated Wednesday afternoon.

Several members of the ruling coalition vowed to support a motion to strip Fico of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution, which would allow his arrest.

“Our members have already approved it,” said the Freedom and Solidarity party in a press release hours after the charges were confirmed by police.

“I expect they’ll confiscate my passport,” said Fico, whose police interview is slated for April 26.

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