Peter Kazimir, a member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council, was charged with bribery in Slovakia, where politicians are stepping up pressure to try to force him out.
Kazimir, who heads the country’s central bank, rejected the allegations. His lawyer Ondrej Mularcik said that the governor received notification of the charges and will file a complaint against them.
“I don’t feel guilty of any crime,” Kazimir said in a statement distributed by the central bank on Tuesday. He said the claims against him are unsubstantiated. An ECB spokeswoman had no comment.
The Governing Council is no stranger to having its members enduring legal troubles. In the last decade, members from Cyprus to Latvia and Slovenia have faced charges or accusations that have raised complaints from the ECB of violating central bank independence. Under EU law, governments are forbidden from dismissing central bankers unless serious misconduct is proven.
The graft accusations against Kazimir are related to his role as finance minister in the government of Prime Minister Robert Fico, which lost power in 2020, the newspaper Sme reported. Kazimir has been in his current job since 2019.
Kazimir has defied political pressure to step down as an investigation unfolded. He’s the highest-ranking member of the previous Slovak cabinet to be caught up in an anti-corruption push by the government, which took power last year after a campaign centered on fighting graft.
The allegations will now be investigated, a process that will last at least four months, and then a court will decide whether this warrants an indictment or not. If convicted, the charge carries a sentence of two to five years in prison.
Peter Kremsky, a lawmaker from Slovakia’s ruling coalition, told the DennikN newspaper on Wednesday that he will submit a proposal to a parliamentary committee next week asking the government to demand the president to remove Kazimir from his post. Under Slovak law, cases related to dismissing central bank governors are decided by EU courts.
Kazimir is the second central bank governor from an eastern euro-area country to face bribery allegations. In 2018, Ilmars Rimsevics, a former Latvian member of the European Central Bank’s Governing Council, was detained and later charged.
Rimsevics is fighting a criminal indictment that he solicited in bribes in exchange for helping the now-defunct Trasta Komercbanka with regulatory issues. His arrest was one of a string of scandals that threatened the reputation of the financial industry in the euro-area nation. He denies all charges and blames a group of banks for his legal problems.
In a case being heard by the European Court of Justice about Rimsevics’s case, an adviser said in April that ECB Governing Council members enjoy wide immunity from prosecution in their formal duties.
The immunity should prevent that “judicial proceedings are initiated or measures of national constraints are adopted” before there’s “an agreement with the institution to which this person belongs,” Advocate General Juliane Kokott said in a non-binding opinion then. A full judgment on the case is still pending.
Former Premier Fico’s record-long rule ended in a wave of public anger after the gunning down of an investigative journalist who wrote about links between crime and politics. Anti-government demonstrations eventually toppled the administration.
After the new government rose to power, a string of officials were arrested including a former deputy justice minister, a special prosecutor and a police chief — though authorities had not charged any top politicians until now.