Slovak Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka attacked the new defense agreement between Slovakia and the USA days before his criticized trip to celebrate the anniversary of the Russian prosecutor’s office in Moscow.
“I reject the black and white worldview and personal contact and communication with the heads of partner prosecutors’ offices abroad, including the Russian Federation, and I consider it necessary and beneficial to achieve the common goal of protecting the rule of law on a global scale,” wrote Slovak Prosecutor General on his Facebook account from Moscow where he took part in the celebration of 300. anniversary of the Russian Prosecutors Office organized by Igor Krasnov, a person on the EU sanctions list.
Despite criticism from several Slovak MPs and members of the Government, he traveled to Moscow just days after his office attacked the Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) with the USA. It is quite a boring, technical document that provides a framework for future military cooperation between the USA and Slovak republic.
Nowadays, every time US personnel are about to travel to Slovakia, i.e. to participate in a joint exercise, a separate contract between the governments regarding technicalities of the travel needs to be signed. The DCA will simply provide a framework for all such future opportunities.
All the countries of the eastern flank of NATO have already signed such agreements with the U.S. government: Romania in 2005, Bulgaria in 2006, Baltic countries in 2017, Hungary in 2019, and Poland in 2020.
Slovak DCA has been in preparations for 4 years, since 2018 when it was supported by the then strongest government party SMER-SD. However, the coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) leader Andrej Danko, who famously often traveled to Moscow and even spoke in the Russian Duma, blocked the contract at the time.
After the elections in 2020 when former opposition parties took the government posts, Slovakia restarted negotiations about DCA. The contract is already prepared and entered the process of being ratified first by the government, then by the parliament.
Ratification seemed to be a formality, until the unexpected criticism by Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka.
Agent 363 with the permission to stop investigations
Maroš Žilinka was elected Prosecutor General in December 2020. As the 7th head of the post, he holds large powers in criminal proceedings and, once elected by the parliament, basically cannot be removed from the office.
At the time of his election, he has been seen as a hope of a change by the members of the government which built its main programme around the anti-corruption agenda and of prosecution of the crimes from the previous government era.
His predecessor Dobroslav Trnka is facing charges for abusing the powers of a public official. Former special prosecutor for the fight against corruption and organized crime Dušan Kováčik is facing similar charges and in September 2021 has even been found guilty for accepting bribes from organized crime, and sentenced to 14 years in prison by first instance court.
Maroš Žilinka and his image fit the public demand for a change in the Prosecutor General’s office: A long-term professional prosecutor with a good reputation and experience with complicated high-profile cases. Marián Kočner, influential ex-oligarch and mafioso, who is being on trial for ordering murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, is also facing charges for ordering the murder of Maroš Žilinka.
Now, after over a year in the office, he is not much more than a disappointment to all those who put their hopes in him. Even before he was elected, his image was tarnished by the fact he was nominated by the political party Sme rodina (We are a family) of Boris Kollár – another person with former ties to organized crime, even though now part of the officially anti-corruption government – and by his friendship to another controversial entrepreneur Michal Gučík.
So far, Žilinka used his powers while in office mostly to stop several high-profile investigations. Infamous article 363 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows him to stop any investigation, if he finds it unlawful, without the need to explain his reasoning to anyone.
Žilinka used it to stop investigation for corruption of ex-chief of the Slovak secret service (SIS) Vladimír Pčolinský (also nominated by Sme rodina), or that of oligarch Jaroslav Haščák, whom we wrote about on Vsquare.
At the beginning of 2022, Maroš Žilinka surprised everybody once again, when he published a big red status on Facebook, in which he attacked the cooperation agreement with the USA.
The post says (in translation): The Office of the General Prosecutor of the Slovak Republic submitted 35 key comments to the proposal of defense cooperation agreement between the government of the Slovak republic and the government of the United States of America, because of which we refuse the proposal of the agreement as a whole.
Fantasies of nuclear warheads
The text of DCA was negotiated between the Slovak and US governments. Before it enters into force, it needs to go through the proper legislative process in Slovakia, same as any country’s laws. In this process, several parties usually have an opportunity to voice their opinions about the proposed act. One of these parties is also the Office of the Prosecutor General.
Maroš Žilinka submitted 35 reservations and suggested rejecting the proposed DCA as a whole. This surprised almost everyone, as it is not common for prosecutors to comment on foreign affairs and contracts.
Among the comments that Žilinka submitted, there are some that are connected to the work of prosecutors, such as the clause that US soldiers who commit minor offenses in the Slovak Republic (offenses punishable by a maximum of 3-year sentence), will be prosecuted in the US and according to the US laws. However, this is a common practice.
Most of the comments that Žilinka submitted have nothing to do with his office and his authority. Minister of Defense Jaroslav Naď claims that 27 out of 35 of Žilinka’s comments are outside of his jurisdiction.
The Prosecutor General argues the agreement means that Slovakia would lose a big part of its national sovereignty, noise levels at the Slovak military airports would rise, and even formulates a conspiracy theory that the USA might place nuclear warheads in Slovakia as a result of this agreement.
That is impossible since there are several other laws in Slovakia which state that any such act would have to be separately agreed upon by the Slovak Government and Parliament. And the DCA specifically mentions that Slovak laws still apply.
The opposition parties, including Smer-SD and Hlas-SD (ex-Smer politicians) who supported the DCA in 2018, already caught on and are now opposing the treaty vigorously, even calling for a referendum on the issue.
Despite the backlash, the Government approved the treaty on January 12th, ignoring all the comments of the Prosecutor General, who is currently on his visit to Russia. The text however still needs to be approved by the Parliament.
Celebrating oppressors of freedom
„He did this [criticized the DCA] to prepare the ground for his trip to Russia. I have absolutely no doubt about that. So that they receive him well in Russia, he sent a signal that he is against the Americans,” claimed Jaroslav Naď in an interview with SME.
The Russian prosecutor’s office is celebrating its 300-year anniversary (January 11-13). The office is riddled with problems regarding human rights abuse since the times of Tsar, during the times of the USSR, and also during the modern times of Vladimir Putin’s rule over Russia.
Žilinka announced he will sign a plan of bilateral cooperation between Slovak and Russian prosecutors offices during his stay.
„I am asking, what kind of plan is he, for the life of God, going to sign with the Russian Prosecutor General, who is on a sanctions list?” Jaroslav Naď said in an interview with Aktuality.sk.
Igor Krasnov, who became Russian Prosecutor General in 2020, was placed on an EU sanctions list in 2021 after Russian opposition leader Alexander Navalny was poisoned by Novichok and later arrested and sentenced when he came back to his country after being hospitalized in Germany. Russian prosecutors played an especially important role in this imprisonment.
This is not the first visit Maroš Žilinka has been paying to his Russian colleague. In July 2021 he met with Igor Krasnov in St. Petersburg, where they talked about deepening the cooperation between Slovak and Russian prosecutors.
“I am convinced that personal communication with foreign partners is the key to achieving a common goal,” announced Žilinka after this first meeting. What is this common goal, he never specified.
Tomáš Madleňák is a Slovak journalist who has worked for the Investigative Center of Ján Kuciak since 2020. He is based in Bratislava.