April 24, 2018 / 9:53 AM / in a year

Slovak ruling party nominates insider as interior minister

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s ruling party on Tuesday nominated one of its own to be interior minister, a decision likely to anger protesters who want an independent figure to reassure them an investigation into a murder that has shaken the country would be impartial.

FILE PHOTO: Outgoing Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks after tendering his resignation to the president as his successor Peter Pellegrini looks on, at the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/David W. Cerny/File Photo

The Smer party has chosen deputy minister Denisa Sakova for the post, said Robert Fico, who remains party leader even though he stepped down as prime minister in March following the killing of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in February.

Tens of thousands of Slovaks have protested since Kuciak’s death, calling for a crackdown on corruption. The demonstrations led to the resignation of Fico and the cabinet and the formation of a new one by the same three-party coalition.

Kuciak, 27, investigated corruption and links between politicians and businessmen. He was shot dead along with his fiancée in what investigators suspect was a professional hit.

Protesters say they also want an interior minister who will investigate the graft cases Kuciak reported on.

Sakova has worked at the ministry, led by previous minister and deputy Smer chief Robert Kalinak, for 10 of past 12 years. She oversaw big IT projects and acted as chief of staff before becoming deputy minister in 2016.

Non-partisan Tomas Drucker replaced Kalinak in the cabinet reshuffle, but Drucker quit last week.

“Sakova, right hand to ... Kalinak, is a bad choice for minister at a time when we need to restore public trust in institutions,” said Juraj Seliga from the “Decent Slovakia” platform, adding they were discussing holding more protests.

Fico said it was Smer’s right to make the nomination and to question that denied democracy.

“Sakova is a professional with a long record at the ministry, which makes her a good choice to handle the task,” he said. Before the 2016 election, Fico said she was part of a new Smer generation.

President Andrej Kiska, who refused to appoint another Kalinak coworker as interior minister before the cabinet reshuffle last month, said on Tuesday the nomination was a wasted opportunity.

“After a number of unexplained allegations of links between the mafia and top politicians, I think it’s unacceptable to ignore public calls for reforms of the Interior Ministry and the police, including fundamental and convincing personnel changes.”

Kiska is a political opponent of Fico’s but has no constitutional power to stop the nomination once the new government has been officially appointed.

Kuciak’s last story, published posthumously, investigated links between Italian businessmen in Slovakia, one of whom has since been charged in cases involving drug trafficking in Italy and abuse of EU subsidies in Slovakia, and two Slovaks who later went on to work in Fico’s government office. All have denied any wrongdoing.

The interior minister will appoint a police chief to replace Tibor Gaspar, who has agreed to step down next month in the face of public pressure.

Writing by Jan Lopatka, editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Larry King

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