According to observers, it was only a matter of time before one of the former prime ministers would be personally implicated in the ongoing chain of high level scandals currently decimating the ranks of the Slovakian political scene. In the past, one of the personal assistants of former Prime Minister Robert Fico has already been accused of having ties to groups that were mentioned in connection with the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend, as a result of which Fico had to resign. Although in this case the political responsibility was clearly established, investigators have not succeeded in establishing links with those involved in the murder and the surrounding corruption scandal, and PM Fico.
It seems though that authorities might have more success in getting a high-level scalp with Fico’s successor in the office, former Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini. Two high-profile suspects currently in custody have both independently given evidence against the politician, accusing him of taking a large sum in return for legislative changes that could have benefited one of Slovakia’s richest businessmen. František Imrecze, the former head of the Office of Financial Oversight who is currently under arrest awaiting his trial in a corruption case, has told investigators that while in office, Pellegrini has agreed to make a special amendment to an existing legislation in return for a large sum of money.
The case involves entrepreneur Michal Suchoba, owner of an IT-related company, who was lobbying for a change in a law related to the introduction of digital cash registers in Slovakia. According to investigators, Suchoba had ties to the alleged head of the Slovakian underworld, organized crime boss Marián Kocner, who is currently also serving time for a variety of convictions, and is still widely regarded as the mastermind behind Jan Kuciak’s murder. Suchoba’s business would have directly benefited from the new amendment.
Based on a leaked police report, the discussion about the deal was supposed to take place between Pellegrini and Imrecze in a well-known restaurant in Bratislava where, according to the chief of the financial regulator, when asked about the possibility of a legislative change in favor of Suchoba’s interests, Pellegrini himself had posed the question of whether the businessman was willing to back up his request financially. No exact sums were discussed, but an agreement was made in principle. Pellegrini was supposed to have received the cash sum of 150.000 Euros through an intermediary.
The former prime minister, who is currently leading in the polls by a significant margin as the leader of the largest opposition party in Slovakia, is denying all the allegations, or even claims that such a meeting between him and Imrecze took place. “I have no knowledge of the content of Mr Imrecze’s statement and have no idea what he is allegedly saying there. I can only respond to Mr Imrecze that I have certainly never asked him for any ‘financial support’ or any other benefit. Based on the SIS report and other police inspections, as well as the prosecutor’s opinions, it seems that in Slovakia the investigation is being manipulated, and witnesses are being led to various statements, so that the leaked statements of penitents become exclusively an instrument of political struggle to tarnish and damage the reputation of pre-determined people, without them being able to defend their own reputation. In this case, it is a matter of denigrating the chairman of the strongest opposition party. I have no idea what or who is leading Mr Imrecze to claim such a lie. I firmly believe that it is not his personal revenge against me for not being appointed Minister of Finance,” stated Pellegrini.
At the same time, investigations are ongoing into how the confession of a high-ranking official could have escaped to the press in an active case. According to reports, the confession could have been leaked by a policeman directly involved in the investigation. Peter Pellegrini and Robert Fico have both accused the current Finance Minister Igor Matovic of orchestrating the campaign against them. Matovic, who had won the election in 2020 on the promise of cleaning up Slovakia of links between organized crime and the political structures, has responded by saying that those confessions against the former prime minister were not made by some “penitents found somewhere on the street”, but by people close to Robert Fico and Pellegrini. The closest friends and associates of Fico and Pellegrini are now testifying that “they were corrupt thieves”.
Title image: Facebook – Peter Pellegrini