Bratislava, Slovakia – After many tumultuous and corruption-ridden years of politics in Slovakia under the leadership of Robert Fico’s SMER-SD, the government of Prime Minister Igor Matovic – who recently stepped down over a deepening governmental crisis – appointed a new special prosecutor, Daniel Lipsic, 47, to lead the charge against corruption. But the nomination itself is already mired in controversy.
For critics, Lipsic’s appointment is a clear partisan move, bringing politics into the general prosecutors office, which should steer clear of any political intricacies in order to maintain the neutrality and independence of the position. For others, however, his nomination opens a new chapter in Slovakia’s fight against corruption, more than three years after the shocking murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
Daniel Lipsic and the question of politics
A former Minister of Justice (2002-2006) and Interior (2010-2012) and ex-MP and vice-president of the Christian Democrats (KDH), Daniel Lipsic has long been a staunch anti-corruption activist, as exemplified by his role in the infamous Gorilla corruption case. His former party KDH, however, has been involved and linked to a number of notorious graft affairs, including the “golden parachutes“, where the Minister of Transport (and head of KDH) paid millions of euros in severance bonuses to former heads of state agencies.
Lipsic eventually left KDH in 2012 to co-create a new party, NOVA, with the declared aim of reforming centrist politics in Slovakia and uniting a number of opposition movements to present a clear and viable alternative to the then-ruling Smer party of Robert Fico.
But soon after being established, his party started to unravel, unable to deliver on its promises. In an attempt to safeguard the movement, NOVA merged with OLaNO and entered into an agreement with Igor Matovic’s party for the 2016 parliamentary elections. The promising union between these two figures of the fight against corruption did not last long, despite honourable results in the 2016 ballot, where they received 11% of the votes.
Lipsic quickly stepped down from his position as MP. After accidentally running with a car over a 72-year-old pedestrian, who later died in the hospital, he decided to resign, saying that he would not be able to fully continue his duties as a member of Parliament. “The fate of this country has never been indifferent to me. I will remain available in public life,” he said at the time.
All for Jan
After working a few years as a lawyer representing politicians and other high-profile clients, Lipsic came back in full force in the public arena taking on the legal representation of the family of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, both murdered in February 2018. Businessman Marian Kocner, the prime suspect in the gruesome assassination who was found not guilty (although he was sentenced to prison in a separate case of forgery), was notoriously worried about Lipsic, identified as one of his sworn enemies, getting involved in the investigation.
In the now famous Threema leak of his private communications, Kocner directly named Lipsic on his so-called death list, fearing he would come into a position of power as the Fico-led government was starting to collapse in the aftermath of the murder and mass popular protests.
Which is exactly what happened. On February 5, MPs nominated him to the highly sensitive post of special prosecutor for a seven-year term. Opposition politicians and a number of corruption watchdogs, however, expressed concerns over his political allegiances, having left politics only five years ago, and due to his close links with several members of the ruling coalition, Matovic included. The controversy only grew stronger after the rules for the nomination of top state prosecutors were changed in a law critics have labelled “Lex Lipsic”, tailor-made to allow him to run.
“His election could threaten the perceived independence of the prosecution service beyond acceptable levels,” warned Transparency International Slovakia, among others.
Initially vying for the post of general prosecutor, Lipsic eventually applied for the one of special prosecutor after President Zuzana Caputova, herself elected on a strong anti-corruption platform, vowed she would not approve his nomination due to his past political career. Soon after his appointment, a survey in February found that only a third of Slovaks trusted Lipsic as special prosecutor, while nearly 40% of respondents declared they “certainly do not trust” him.
Established thirteen years ago, the special prosecutor’s office is one of the two top organs in charge of fighting corruption and crimes at the highest level. Since its establishment in 2004, it was led by Dušan Kováčik, who is currently in custody on criminal and corruption charges. With the ruling coalition around Igor Matovic collapsing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restructuring of the government, the high stakes involved in this controversial nomination mean that Daniel Lipsic still has a long way to go to take Slovakia’s fight against corruption to the next level.