(Bloomberg) -- Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico announced he’ll scrap an institution tasked with fighting corruption and serious crimes, sparking accusations that the move would undermine the rule of law in the eastern European Union member state.
Fico’s six-week-old cabinet approved a draft amendment that would abolish the Special Prosecutor’s Office as of Jan. 15. The prime minister said on Wednesday the institution “significantly contributed to the violation of human rights,” repeating his accusation that officials in the office have abused their authority.
The opposition had already denounced the plan as an attack on the rule of law. President Zuzana Caputova, a former anti-corruption lawyer, said Tuesday that it appeared to be motivated by Fico’s agenda rather than shortcomings in the institution’s operations.
Fico’s move threatens to put Slovakia in the company of Hungary and Poland, which have been criticized for years by the European Commission for dismantling independent institutions including the court system and media in a bid to cement power. The commission, the EU’s executive arm, has reacted by withholding billions of euros in funding.
The commission said it sent a letter to the Slovak government on Tuesday asking it not to move forward with any legislation until it can be assessed closely. Commission officials discussed the planned legislation in a meeting with Slovak ministers in November.
“The wide-ranging scope of the intended amendments and the numerous areas of EU law concerned require a thorough and sound analysis,” commission spokesman Christian Wigand said in a statement.
Prosecutors in the office will lose their caseloads, which will be distributed to regional peers, and be assigned to the General Prosecutor’s Office.
“I would consider such step a very unfortunate and even dangerous case of political interference,” Caputova said in a statement. “Any fundamental changes, especially in the area of rule of law, should happen after expert discussions and especially within proper legislative process.”
Fico, a populist Social Democrat who won reelection in September with a pledge to upend the EU’s sanctions against Russia, has hit out at prosecutors for misusing their position to pursue corruption and organized crime. The premier himself was accused of establishing an organized crime network — an allegation he’s denied — until the charges were dropped last year by the general prosecutor.
Still, investigations by the Special Prosecutor’s office have led to the convictions in court in several high-profile corruption cases, many linked to networks that dominated during Fico’s previous tenure as premier. Fico resigned in 2018 amid a burst of public outrage following the killing of an investigative reporter, Jan Kuciak, who probed graft in Slovakia.
--With assistance from Peter Laca and Stephanie Bodoni.
(Updates to add European Commission’s statement in fifth paragraph.)
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