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Slovak Republic - Corruption

Slovakia is seen as a great place to invest, but is also a country where organized crime flourishes. Slovakia reported the worst economic freedom results in Central Europe in 2018, falling to 65th in the latest Economic Freedom Index, published by the Heritage Foundation. Corruption continues to pose a challenge, and organisational and procedural weaknesses at the police and prosecutors level, as well as weak whistleblower protection, hinder the fight against corruption. Perceptions of corruption remain stubbornly high and have been met with only limited determination to prosecute high-level corruption cases.

Slovakia remains among the worst-performing EU Member States on corruption indicators, making new policy measures crucial. In the 2018 Global Competitiveness Index rankings for ethics and corruption, as well as for diversion of public funds, Slovakia scores very poorly relative to other EU Member States. It also ranks as one of the worst on favouritism in decision-making. Transparency Internationals Corruption Perceptions Index and the World Banks Control of Corruption Indicator show equally poor results for Slovakia. In late 2018 the government set out a new Anti-corruption Action Plan for 2019-2023. The Action Plan focuses on risk management and risk analysis, and introduces a network of integrity officials in the central government.

Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak began investigating organized crime in his country and collaborated with international reporters from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. (OCCRP). Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnrova were shot to death on February 21, 2018 in their home outside Bratislava. Tens of thousands of Slovaks rallied to demand the country's police chief be fired following the murder of Jan Kuciak. The murder of 27-year-old investigative journalist Kuciak and his girlfriend cast a spotlight on the high levels of alleged corruption among politically connected businesspeople. Police said they believe that the reporter's murder was "most likely" related to his investigation into ties between top politicians and organized crime.

Shortly before his assassination, Kuciak had learned that Maria Troskova, a consultant and presumed lover of then-Prime Minister Robert Fico, was a business partner and ex-lover of an Italian mafia member residing in eastern Slovakia. This controversy helped trigger Fico's resignation a few weeks after Kuciak's murder, and followed the resignation of Interior Minister Robert Kalinak.

Following elections in late 1998, the new coalition Government of the Slovak Republic recognized the harmful effects of corruption and placed anticorruption high on the official agenda. A key milestone was reached in late 1999 when first draft of the National Program for the Fight Against Corruption was prepared. The openness demonstrated by including non-governmental bodies as active participants in developing a strategy - Transparency International Slovakia was instrumental in drafting the National Program - is congruent with the openness of public administration that will help fight corruption. The National Program seeks "to combat corruption in Slovakia, especially in public life and in the use of public funds and resources." The National Program itself provides the framework that the effort to fight corruption would take - an Action Plan in mid-2000, contained specific commitments, assign specific responsibilities, and outline a timetable for completion.

In 2000, the GOS passed a national anti-corruption program. Subsequently, it appointed a corruption steering committee, amended the Criminal Code in attempts to strengthen law enforcement, approved a law modernizing public procurement, and enacted a strong Freedom of Information Act. A special court and a special prosecutor for corruption and organized crime were established in 2003.

Recognition of the devastation corruption wreaks on economic development has led some major donors to move anticorruption to positions of prominence on their development agendas. In 1996 James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, extended an open offer to help member countries with the struggle against corruption, and many formally requested assistance. Similarly, the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) has long been a leader in the battle against corruption by promoting transparency, establishing checks and balances, and strengthening the rule of law. Slovakia is one of a growing number of countries have sought to tackle the problem of corruption, requesting that these institutions conduct a diagnostic study of corruption in Slovakia.

As of 2000 corruption was common and affected all key sectors of the economy. Individual citizens were most affected in the social sectors, with 60 percent indicating payment of pozornost1 (some of which were expressions of gratitude, but most of which were non-voluntary) to obtain hospital services and between a quarter and a third for other medical services and higher education. Enterprises are most affected by licensing and regulatory bodies, courts and customs, with incidences of bribes reported by one-third for a number of these offices. Many firms reported that they unofficially sponsor political parties.

Instances of police corruption and misconduct were reported, primarily the extortion of bribes during traffic stops. Headed by a director who reports directly to the minister of interior, the Bureau for the Inspection Service of the Police Corps is responsible for investigating police abuses. Cases may be initiated by, among others, the inspection service, the police corps, the police's organized crime unit, and individual citizens.

The current law on conflict of interest, which is generally viewed as weak and even more weakly enforced, came into force in October 2004. A special committee of Parliament supervises the implementation of the law, but it has not sanctioned any official covered by the law for violation of conflict of interest rules since its inception.

The bodies with the lowest levels of corruption were those in which the lines of internal communications were clear, administrative rules were well-implemented, personnel decisions were based on merit rather than connections or corruption, and the organization's mission was widely understood by staff. The level of meritocracy is particularly strong for explaining levels of corruption.

In general, transparency and predictability have been problematic for many investors. The process of obtaining residency permits for expatriate managers has been criticized for years as difficult and time-consuming. Legislation which came into effect in December 2005 addressed some but not all of the problematic areas. An amendment to the law governing the stay of foreigners, effective from January 2007, introduced EU Directive 562/2006 on "Schengen borders." Investors have long complained that purchasing land and obtaining building permits are time-consuming and unpredictable processes.

Foreign investors and foreign companies doing business in Slovakia have complained about the transparency of regulatory processes in several industries, and a number of regulatory bodies are considered by the business community to be less than fully independent. Political pressure on regulators in several offices has resulted in changes of leadership in order to influence the outcome in specific regulatory adjudications.

The Special Court, established in 2003 to try cases of corruption and trying about 80 cases per year, was praised by many analysts as an effective tool for dealing with organized criminal groups. In 2008 former US Ambassador Obsitnik said: "I want to commend [President of the Special Court Michal Truban] for the excellent work that the Special Court is doing. I think it's very important for Slovak society, and it's very important that corruption be fought at every level - both official high corruption as well as low corruption." Political Counselor Susan Ball also reiterated the Embassy's position to TV Markiza on 21 May 2009.

In a statement released 20 May 2009, the US Embassy expressed its concern with a ruling by the Slovak Constitutional Court to close down the Special Court. "While we respect fully the decision of the Slovak Constitutional Court," reads the Embassy's statement, "we were very disappointed that Slovakia has apparently lost an important institution in a fight against corruption and organized crime with today's decision." Slovakia's Special Court, set up to adjudicate state corruption and organized crime cases, had already sentenced one former mayor for receiving bribes and jailed an eastern Slovak underworld figure, among other decisions. Slovakia's Constitutional Court ruled on May 20 that the Special Court was unconstitutional, but did not invalidate verdicts issued by that court. In its stead a new Specialized Court, with more limited powers, was established.

In 2009, three government ministers were relieved of their posts because of concerns about non-transparent or inflated tenders or because of ethical violations. The European Commission has sought explanations or investigated corruption in connection with several non-transparent tenders and regulatory decisions.

The Slovak chapter of Transparency International (TI) is active and, along with other civil society groups, monitors public tenders. Slovakia is a signatory to the OECD Convention on Battling Bribery, and to give or accept bribes is a criminal act. It should be noted, however, that Slovakia is ranked very low in the quality of its implementation of the Convention, according to a TI report. Slovakia also ranked 56th on TI's 2009 Corruption Perception Index (CPI), down (i.e., more corrupt) from 52nd in 2008 and 49th in 2007. The CPI index measures the perceived level of corruption in 180 countries.

Anti-corruption journalist Jan Kuciak was killed 25 February 2018 just before publishing a report about ties between politicians and organized crime. Kuciak was active in reporting on fraud cases involving businessmen with links to Prime Minister Robert Fico's Smer-Social Democracy party. Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were found dead from gunshot wounds in their home in the town of Velka Maca. The 27-year-old was working on a story about "the fraudulent payment of European Union transfer funds to Italian nationals resident in Slovakia with alleged ties to the 'Ndrangheta organized crime group from Italy's Calabria region. Slovak organised crime had never killed reporters, even in the bad old days. Whereas Italy's mafia gangs have shown no such compunctions.

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