Two former Slovakian construction ministers, Marian Janusek and Igor Stefanov, have been given lengthy sentences for influencing a tender process.
The sentences, of 12 and nine years respectively, were the first to be issued against top-level politicians in Slovakia. Ranked 54th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions index, Slovakia is one of the more corrupt countries in the EU.
The two ministers, who served under Slovakia’s current Prime Minister Robert Fico from 2006 to 2010, were found to have rigged a tender in favour of a company close to the Slovak National Party (SNS), newswires reported on October 18.
The two ex-ministers were also fined €30,000 each, while three civil servants involved in the scandal were dismissed from their posts. The ministers still have a chance to appeal against the ruling.
Public pressure on the government to tackle high-level corruption has increased in recent years, culminating in April when thousands of Slovaks rallied in Bratislava. They were demanding the resignation of another top official, Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, who is a close ally of Fico's. Demonstrators said Kalinak should step down because of his business ties to property developer Ladislav Basternak, who was the subject of a tax fraud probe.
While the protests didn’t achieve the scale of those in nearby Romania earlier in the year, they unsettled officials, and Fico’s government has since been trying to improve its anti-corruption credentials.
Coincidentally, Fico held a meeting with experts from the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), who are currently preparing their regular evaluation of the fight against corruption in Slovakia, on October 18.
Fico told GRECO experts that his government is preparing a raft of new legislation to tackle corruption, as well as taking measures to reduce cash payments, which he said was “one of the most effective ways to fight corruption”, according to a government statement.
In a remarkable turnaround from his previous comments on the press — in November 2016 he called journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” when they raised questions about procurement for cultural events during Slovakia’s EU presidency — Fico also praised the role of the media in helping to curb graft. "There have been occasions when the media have helped fight corruption because they have made it public," the prime minister said while briefing GRECO officials.