Slovak officials hired to fight farm subsidy fraud arrested for fraud

Police arrested Josef Kiss, head of the Agricultural Paying Agency, and four other people, including high-level agriculture ministry officials, for allegedly mishandling EU and state funds despite being appointed by the anti-corruption party OĽaNO to weed out fraud at the agency, according to Euractiv.

The anti-graft OĽaNO party won the 2020 parliamentary election in a landslide, but its chaotic management led to several political crises and the appointment of the current caretaker government. Police have now initiated criminal proceedings in several cases targeting party members in public official roles.

“OĽaNO ceased to be an anti-corruption party as soon as it came to power. The narrative obviously existed just to attract voters,” commented MP Jarmila Halgasova of liberal SaS, adding that the agency needs to undergo “full digitization”.

Jozef Bíreš, Technocratic Agriculture Minister, in office since May, said he was “surprised, and not pleasantly” in a comment for Denník N. According to reports, the arrests included his adviser, appointed by his predecessors at OĽaNO.

The Agricultural Paying Agency is in charge of distributing EU and state budget subsidies to farmers. It oversees around €700 million yearly but has a history of corruption scandals. In one publicized case, it paid out €600,000 for a piece of machinery that cost only €250,000. After numerous investigations, the EU cut the agency’s subsidies by 10% in 2020 and 25% in 2021, costing the country around €180 million.

Under Kiss’ leadership, however, the agency has been attempting to clear its name.

Just last week, anti-graft NGO Zastavme Korupciu (Stop Corruption) praised the agency for upping its number of inspections and removing subjectivity from decision-making. However, the NGO warned that several high-profile employees connected to past scandals only changed positions under new leadership.

The arrests come after former Agriculture Minister Samuel Vlčan was embroiled in an EU fund scandal.

Vlčan, who considers himself an OĽaNO nominee, resigned after he insisted on keeping a disputed €1.4 million subsidy for his company. OĽaNO refused responsibility for Vlčan’s actions.