Prague, Czech Republic – The creativity of the Slovak National Criminal Agency (NAKA) in coming up with the names of this year’s high-profile raids and operations at least adds a somewhat humorous undertone to the latest developments in the fight of Slovakia against corruption.
But with so many of them being conducted over the past year as the fight against COVID-19 monopolized the world’s attention, it is sometimes difficult to make sense of it all, making it necessary, as the year’s end approaches, to look back, take stock of everything that happened and examine more in detail other equally important battles that may have slipped out of the radar.
In line with its name, Action Storm, the first NAKA raid conducted in the early days of March, created an absolute earthquake in Slovakia, targeting corruption at the highest levels of the judiciary system and kick-starting the authorities’ fight to “clean house”.
On the morning of March 9, the Slovak National Criminal Agency took in no less than thirteen judges for questioning, most of whom were eventually charged with corruption and bribery, abuse of power, interfering with the independence of the judiciary and obstructing justice. The group is said to be made up of judges connected, in one way or another, to Marian Kocner, the businessman who had been charged with ordering the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
Their names appeared in Kocner’s secret correspondence in the Threema messaging app, which was seized and deciphered by Slovak authorities in their investigation into the gruesome murder of the young reporter and his fiancée. Although his Threema messages showed just how extensive his influence over the police, prosecutor’s office and the courts was, it didn’t provide sufficient evidence. Investigators had to look elsewhere or dig deeper.
Enter Vladimir Sklenka, a judge of a Bratislava district court whose phone was confiscated as part of another investigation a few months earlier: thus unable to delete the most incriminating communication from the Threema application, he began cooperating with Slovak police. His testimony paved the way for the March raid. Charges initially brought against Sklenka, who is believed to have exchanged around 9,000 messages with Kocner and to have earned around 170,000 euros in two years’ time, were temporarily suspended due to his cooperation.
The March storm was only a harbinger of something bigger yet to come. And as many of us living under the latitudes of Central Europe know all too well, the windstorm may be the most dangerous variant and destructive natural phenomenon. Like the chaos observed in 2004 when brutal windstorms destroyed large parts of Slovakia and its national pride, the Tatra mountains, this year’s Action Windstorm, conducted in October by the NAKA agency, devastated what was left of trust in Slovakia’s judiciary.
Arguably the biggest gust of wind of this second high-profile raid was prompted by the arrest of Zoroslav Kollar, aka Zoro, a well-known businessman and lawyer, notoriously associated with a number of mafia figures and organizations, including Piťovci. Some even claimed that, through his connections in Slovakia’s underworld and business endeavours, his influence was greater than Kocner’s. Kollar was arrested by Slovakia’s anti-corruption agency at the end of October, also on the grounds of evidence put forward in Sklenka’s testimony.
Nine other people were arrested at the same time on charges largely similar to those put forward in March during the Storm raid: interference in court proceedings, graft and bribery, abuse of power, etc. In total, some 20 high-profile members of Slovakia’s judiciary were detained in the two NAKA raids – a number not to be understated, but that could also only be the beginning as the accused begin to testify.
The corruption at the heart of the Slovak judicial system may be starting to unravel in a manner that echoes our country’s national anthem: “Our Slovakia has been asleep for a long time, but lightning and thunder encourages it to come to”.
By Lenka Hanulová
Originally from Bratislava, Lenka studied politics at King’s College and UCL in London, with a special focus on Russian and post-Soviet politics. She cooperated with several Slovak media and currently lives in Prague. Check out her latest articles right here!