Slovak central bank chief under pressure after conviction for bribery

Slovak central bank chief under pressure after conviction for bribery
Peter Kazimir has been one of the most prominent central bank governors in the CEE region. / NBS
By Albin Sybera April 14, 2023

Slovak central bank Governor Peter Kazimir has refused to resign after being found guilty of bribery by the country's Special Criminal Court (STS) and fined €100,000.

Caretaker Prime Minister Eduard Heger called for Kazimir to step down and Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said that he  “should consider stepping down” even though the court ruling is not yet in legal force. 

Heger  told a news conference in front of the central bank headquarters on April 13 that it was “unacceptable for a person to be convicted of bribery by a court to hold the post of governor of this respected institution”.

However, Kazimir, who has always protested his innocence, has said he will appeal the decision. The former Smer party finance minister was appointed governor in 2019 under the premiership of the populist leftist party's leader Robert Fico, who is leading opinion polls ahead of snap elections scheduled for September. Any appeal is likely to be heard after the election.

SNB governors, who are appointed by the president, have a six-year mandate and can serve two terms.

“I’m innocent,” Kažimír said in an emailed statement to the Financial Times. “I’m yet to receive the court’s decision and order. I didn’t commit any crime and I’m confident I will prove my innocence during the main trial or an appeal in Slovakia or in the EU.”

In his statement, Kazimir implied that the case was political. "I will not react nor comment on politicians’ statements during the ongoing pre-election campaign. I believe in the presumption of innocence. I’m executing all my duties responsibly and honourably.”

The head of the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) is accused of bribing the former president of Slovak Customs, Frantisek Imrecze, while finance minister. Imrecze admitted to accepting a bribe from Kazimir. The case involves an alleged secret system of salary supplements paid to top officials under Fico's government. 

Kazimir, who represents Slovakia at the European Central Bank, is one of the most high-profile central bank governors from Emerging Europe. He has always taken a hawkish stance on interest rates and, as finance minister, was one of the toughest in the EU's Ecofin council over how to handle Greece during that country's economic crisis in 2009.

Kazimir is also the most profile Smer politician or government official convicted under the current right-wing government's anti-corruption drive, which followed the ousting of Fico and Smer after the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in 2018. Corruption charges against Fico himself have been temporarily dropped but the case against former interior minister Robert Kalinak has been reopened. 

Kazimir was backed by  Fico who called the ruling “constructed” and based on “made up lies” of the whistleblower Imrecze. On his Facebook page, Fico highlighted that Kazimir “has parted ways with Smer already in 2018” and that the case serves as a pretext to “hit on Smer” .

The case against Kazimir was dropped last year but then reopened after Imrecze confessed and began cooperating with police. Imrecze, who was found guilty of corruption in February, could also play a role in other investigations, notably that of  Kalinak and Smer-SD-linked oligarch Jozef Brhel.

In February, after the court found Imrecze guilty, he told the media that he was “part of the system of compensation of salaries”, which is “just one of the expressions of the organised and close connection of oligarchy with the highest state power at that time”. Imrecze said he was sorry for it and was cooperating with Slovak authorities. 

The Special Criminal Court was set up by the current government to deal with corruption committed by state officials. Its ruling is not yet in legal force, and the state prosecutor has filed an appeal demanding stricter punishment for Kazimir.