September 17, 2019 / 7:24 AM / a month ago

Slovak Prime Minister Pellegrini survives no-confidence vote

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini survived a no-confidence vote on Tuesday, days after losing his formal majority in parliament and as revelations about the reach of the main suspect in the murder of a journalist shake his government.

FILE PHOTO: Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini arrives at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 20, 2019. Julien Warnard/Pool via REUTER

The 2018 killings of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiance Martina Kusnirova shone a spotlight on corruption in Slovakia and sparked huge protests that forced then-Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign.

Kuciak had uncovered fraud cases involving politically connected businessmen. A subject of his reportage was Marian Kocner, one of five people now awaiting trial for the killings and an acquaintance of politicians from various parties.

Four of those charged, including Kocner, have pleaded not guilty, while the fifth has confessed to shooting Kuciak and has been cooperating with police.

Special prosecutors said last month that Kocner’s phone showed communications with “representatives of state bodies and the justice system”. A deputy justice minister resigned this month after her mobile phone was seized by the police, although she denied any contacts with Kocner.

Two deputy general prosecutors had already resigned over their contacts with Kocner or a woman also charged in the case.

Slovak media published parts of messages Kocner allegedly exchanged with the charged woman and with business allies in which they discuss his alleged contacts among the authorities.

Zlatica Kusnirova, mother of Kuciak’s fiance, and her lawyer Roman Kvasnica have confirmed the authenticity of leaked messages. Kocner’s lawyer did not respond to emailed questions.

Pellegrini has not been shown to have been in contact with Kocner but opposition parties called a no-confidence vote when he refused to remove the deputy minister who later quit.

He won on Tuesday with support from independents after the departure of two lawmakers from a junior coalition party this week cost the government its formal majority in the 150-member parliament. Of 131 lawmakers present, 62 voted against Pellegrini while 66 backed him.

The government will face renewed pressure on Friday when protesters return to the streets, aiming to “support courageous prosecutors and police officers and call for a trustworthy government” ahead of a general election due in February.

At about 20 percent in opinion polls, Pellegrini’s Smer is still the strongest party, thanks to welfare spending and a strong economy. It has suffered major loses in regional, local, presidential and EU elections in the past 18 months, however, and a new pro-EU/liberal coalition is catching up in the polls with around 15 percent support.

In March, public fury over corruption in the wake of Kuciak’s murder helped liberal lawyer Zuzana Caputova become euro zone member Slovakia’s first female president.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Catherine Evans

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