December 6, 2019 / 3:28 PM / a month ago

Slovak police charge ex-president and opposition leader Kiska with tax fraud

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak police have charged former president Andrej Kiska with tax fraud, stirring up the political scene ahead of an election due in February.

FILE PHOTO: Slovakian President Andrej Kiska listens during a news conference in Riga, Latvia December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Police suspect Kiska, who is now an opposition leader, of wrongdoing in campaign financing before he became president in 2014. He could face up to 12 years in prison if the case is brought to court and he is found guilty.

“The fraud is connected with entering tax receipts for the presidential election campaign into the books of (Kiska’s) company although these activities were not part of the company’s business,” police said on Friday.

Kiska denies any wrongdoing.

He paid for the presidential campaign through his firm KTAG. The firm claimed a tax return worth 146,000 euros ($165,580) that was not approved by the tax authority which later imposed tens of thousands euros in additional taxes and penalties on the company.

The police looked into the company’s tax records twice in the past years and did not press any charges. A third investigation was opened again this year.

The charge was made one day after Robert Fico, the leader of the biggest ruling party Smer and a former long-time prime minister, was charged with enticing racial hatred.

Kiska, an arch-rival of Fico whom he defeated in the presidential election, has long said he expected the charges as a part of a political fight against him by Fico.

“Fico continues with his revenge. I am not afraid of Fico, I have beaten him once, I will beat him again,” Kiska said at a news conference.

Kiska now runs a new political party, Za Ludi (For the People), which has been second or third in opinion polls ahead of the Feb. 29 election.

Fico’s Smer has seen its support dip but still remains the most popular party with backing of around 20%. However, it is unclear whether he or rather a group of opposition parties will be able to form a majority in parliament.

Slovakia has been shaken by the murder of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée in 2018, which prosecutors believe was ordered by a businessman Marian Kocner who has had strong ties with senior state officials.

He and his alleged associates will face trial from Dec. 19.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova and Robert Muller

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