Slovenia could let fraudsters get away, EPPO warns
(This story was corrected to say Ljubljana, not Bratislava, in paragraph 6)
Slovenia's right-wing government is taking steps that threaten the EU's efforts to prosecute and punish corruption, the bloc's Luxembourg-based fraud prosecution chief said on Thursday.
The Slovenian Parliament is moving fast to change criminal law rules to cut the time within which people accused of stealing EU funds could be prosecuted, the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) said in a statement.
If approved, the changes "would represent a de facto amnesty for many cases of fraud against the EU budget in Slovenia," EPPO said, representing "a clear and persisting intention to hamper the effectiveness of criminal prosecution of cases of fraud in Slovenia, including tax fraud, tax evasion and corruption."
There was no response on Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Janša's active Twitter page on Thursday. His was the last participating EU government to nominate local prosecutors without which EPPO cannot function.
The comments came as European Chief Prosecutor Laura Kövesi and two deputies met in Luxembourg on Thursday with Slovenian Prosecutor General Drago Šketa. The country has about 20 to 30 open investigations that could fit EPPO's mandate, Šketa told local news media last year.
Kövesi spent most of last year pushing Ljubljana to name two local prosecutors who would work corruption cases within Slovenia. When that finally happened in November, Janša's government said their appointments were temporary and subject to further government action.
Slovenia was engaged in “persisting obstruction” against EPPO, Kövesi said during a meeting with EU justice ministers in October, accusing the country of “interfering” with her agency's work.
The European Parliament last month adopted a resolution decrying the situation of fundamental rights and rule of law in Slovenia. The country's democratic practices and media freedoms were facing several threats, including the slow action on EPPO prosecutors, the resolution said.
Since the agency was created in June, it has received more than 2,400 reports of crime. It secured its first conviction in November after a Slovak mayor was handed a three-year suspended sentence for providing false documents to illegally obtain financial aid from EU money.
Poland, Hungary, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden have decided against joining EPPO and its work to investigate fraud and crimes against EU funds.