Slovak president blasts government’s prosecution reforms, threatens veto

(Reuters) -Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said on Friday she would likely veto the government’s planned fast-track changes to criminal law that include scrapping a special prosecutor’s office that has focused on corruption, saying the plan needed proper debate.

Caputova said the proposed changes included unacceptable political meddling in personnel matters, threatened to weaken the position of whistle-blowers and could lead to a halt in the inflow of European Union funds.

The European Commission, which has clashed with EU members Poland and Hungary in the past over rule-of-law issues, has urged Slovakia not to make hasty changes, a call joined by the United States on Thursday.

Veteran Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government, appointed in October, said on Wednesday it aimed to approve legislation by Christmas that would disband as soon as in January the special prosecutor’s office (USP), which has been in place for two decades to battle graft and organised crime.

Fico, whose coalition has a sufficient majority in parliament to overturn a presidential veto, has accused the special prosecutor’s office of being politically motivated and has said its actions violated human rights.

Caputova said part of the reasoning behind the move to disband the office was to oust USP head Daniel Lipsic. Lipsic served as interior minister in a government opposed to Fico in 2010-2012, and has been called “an evil” by Fico.

“Such step seems purpose-built and inadmissible personnel intervention by political power into the functioning of the prosecution,” Caputova said.

The proposal would mean “fundamental changes in criminal law, which are to happen in a groundlessly fast fashion, without sufficient expert preparation, and without communication with the lay and expert public,” she said.

Fico resigned in 2018 amid mass protests against corruption which followed the murder of an investigative journalist.

Following the 2020 victory of an anti-Fico coalition, the USP has investigated over 100 people including police and judicial officials and influential businessmen, and around another 40 have been sentenced, according to Slovak media.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in PragueEditing by Christina Fincher and Frances Kerry)