Fico government working towards shortening jail time for corruption

Fico government working towards shortening jail time for corruption

24 Nov 2023 ( Euractiv )

People with ties to Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party who were prosecuted for corruption allegations could be left with a slap on the wrist instead of jail time as the Slovak Justice Ministry works on criminal code reforms – a key part of Smer’s promises.

The reform is one of the key Smer promises, meant as a reaction to past “abuse of criminal law against the opposition in Slovakia”.

But Fico also argues that Slovakia has a problem with overcrowded prisons.

“We have two options. Either the new prisons will be built, or we will adopt such a policy which would guarantee only those who are supposed to be in jail will be there,” he said, adding that the judicial system should choose alternative sentences or electronic tagging more frequently.

Last year, while in opposition, now-Deputy Prime Minister Tomáš Taraba (for SNS) proposed to reduce penalties for corruption, including the option for EU funds fraudsters to be able to avoid punishment using effective remorse and returning the misused money.

Back then, his proposal did not pass. However, Taraba is now an influential member of the current coalition, with enough votes to enforce the amendments.

Whether the Justice Ministry will take inspiration from Taraba remains to be seen. If it does, it would affect current cases still being investigated or ongoing court proceedings. As Denník N reported, Norbert Bödör, an oligarch from one of the biggest corruption cases nicknamed the “Cattleman”, would suddenly face only probation instead of a prison sentence of up to 12 years.

A judge once labelled the case as a “mega-machine of enormous corruption” as it deals with corruption in agricultural subsidies where a total of €10 million was allegedly used in bribes.

In case the proposed reform also lowers sanctions for EU funds fraud, it could trigger an infringement proceeding or even suspension of EU funds for Bratislava, the European Public Prosecutor Office remarked last year.

Euractiv Slovakia asked the Justice Ministry for a statement but did not receive an answer at the time of publication.

During a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in October, Fico asked the EU Commission for consultations regarding the criminal code reform, which von der Leyen accepted.