The populist cabinet of Robert Fico has approved the dismantling of the Special Prosecutor Office which oversees high-profile criminal cases, and changed several criminal codes.
Opposition and journalists criticised the move as a dangerous move, and the European Commission warned the Slovak cabinet to wait before going ahead with the changes in the judiciary.
“As far as the Office of the Special Prosecution is concerned, we won’t walk around a hot stew. We are dismantling it, and all the cases would go to the relevant [general] prosecutors”, Fico told media on December 7. “The Special Prosecution Office cannot be fixed”, he added.
“Evil in the person of [Daniel] Lipsic must end”, he said, adding that the office headed by the special prosecutor was “a guarantee of human rights transgressions”.
The Special Prosecution Office oversees some of the highest-profile corruption and organised crime cases, including cases linked to Fico’s leftist Smer party officials and business backers.
Earlier, Lipsic offered to resign in an apparent effort to relieve his office of the pressure it has faced in the weeks following the formation of the Fico-led cabinet, which also includes the centre-left Hlas and far-right SNS.
Fico admitted the country’s President Zuzana Caputova could veto the move. The president criticised the plan to dismantle the Special Prosecutor's Office when this appeared in the media and cabinet members' statements.
European Commission justice spokesperson Christian Wigand confirmed to the Slovak and Czech press agencies, TASR and CTK, that the EC asked Slovakia not to proceed with the judicial changes.
“The wide scope of planned changes and a number of affected EU legislation requires a thorough and solid analysis”, the EC’s statement reads.
“We have asked the Slovak government in a letter not to continue with the planned changes, and particularly not to resort to the swift procedure without discussion with affected subjects on the national and the EU level”, the EC statement continues. It urges the Slovak government to seek consultation with the Council of Europe too.
Michal Simecka, leader of the opposition Progressive Slovakia party, has called for a demonstration under the slogan “Let’s Stop Them” to be held in front of the Office of the Government in Bratislava on December 7.
“We refuse this destruction of the rule of law state. It is not enough to talk about it in the parliament and vote against it, and we have to use all the tools we have”, Simecka said in a statement, adding that “now is the moment we have to stand united as opposition and citizens”.
The protest is backed by two other opposition parties, the neoliberal SaS and Christian Democratic KDH, while the rightwing populist Slovakia party (formerly OLaNO) called its own protest.
The Special Prosecutor's Office was established in 2004 to oversee high-profile cases. Many of these spring from police investigations launched in 2020 after Smer lost early elections called following mass protests ignited by the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kusnirova.
Fico himself and his close collaborator, Smer Minister of Defence Robert Kalinak, were caught in the investigations, but these were stopped under paragraph 363 of the criminal code invoked by the General Prosecution.
Other changes approved by Fico’s cabinet on December 6, include lowering punishments for financial crimes and corruption and enabling the review of already passed sentences based on agreement with the indicted persons, which would affect police collaborators.