Slovak president challenges the government's move to eliminate the special anti-graft prosecutor

Slovak president challenges the government's move to eliminate the special anti-graft prosecutor

Slovakia’s president said on Friday that she will challenge at the Constitutional Court an amendment to the country’s penal code that eliminates the office of the special prosecutor dealing with major crimes and corruption.

President Zuzana Caputova said she was also asking Slovakia's top court to freeze the legislation, which was approved by lawmakers loyal to populist Prime Minister Robert Fico, until it decides on her complaint. It is not clear when the court will rule.

The measure, approved by Parliament on Feb. 8, has faced sharp criticism at home and abroad.

The changes include abolishing the special prosecutor’s office, which handles serious crimes such as graft, organized crime and extremism. Those cases would be taken over by prosecutors in regional offices, which haven’t dealt with such high-level crimes for 20 years.

The changes also include a reduction in punishment for corruption and some other crimes, including the possibility of suspended sentences, and a significant shortening of the statute of limitations, including for rape and murder.

Caputova has warned the changes jeopardise the rule of law and could damage society.

Thousands of Slovaks repeatedly took to the streets in protests that started more than two months ago and have spread from the capital, Bratislava, to more than 30 cities and towns and even abroad.

The European Parliament has questioned Slovakia’s ability to fight corruption if the changes are adopted. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office has said Slovakia’s plans threaten the protection of the EU’s financial interests and its anti-corruption framework.

The ruling coalition pushed the amendments through a fast-track parliamentary procedure, meaning the draft legislation was not reviewed by experts and others usually involved in the process. The coalition also limited the time for parliamentary debate.

A number of people linked to the prime minister’s party, including lawmakers, face prosecution in corruption cases.

Fico returned to power for the fourth time last year after his leftist party Smer (Direction) won Sept. 30 parliamentary elections on a pro-Russia and anti-American platform.

Fico, who ended the country’s military aid for Ukraine, joined forces with another leftist group Hlas (Voice) and the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, a major pro-Russian force in Slovakia, to form a majority government.

His critics worry Slovakia could abandon its pro-Western course and follow the direction of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.