MEPs are calling for further investigations into the misuse of EU funds in Slovakia, following reports of financial irregularities from the bloc's anti-fraud agency.
In the last two years, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), has uncovered several cases of abuse of land subsidies in Slovakia.
However, MEPs say it is just the tip of the iceberg, with evidence going back all the way to the murder of young journalist Jan Kuciak.
"For 12 years, the previous government was really involved in many, many, many fraudulent activities, including probably the murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancé, which was sort of the climax," Slovak MEP Michal Wiezik said. "In that regard, I would say we need to investigate. Investigate and investigate in order to get the real picture, and I am afraid of what we will see in the end."
Wiezik added that the government agency which paid the money had the most irregularities.
"The amount of fraud can be huge, but no one knows for sure until they are thoroughly investigated. Therefore, I am very curious to see if there will be further investigations to find out the true amount of fraud," Wiezik said.
Last year, OLAF found financial irregularities with payments related to EU agriculture funds. The agency uncovered weaknesses in how farmers applied for subsidies and called for improvements.
The agency's investigations began after reporter Kuciak and his fiancée were shot dead in their home close to Bratislava in 2018, sparking mass protests that led to the downfall of then populist Prime Minister Robert Fico.
Kuciak worked for aktuality.sk as an investigative journalist, writing about corruption in Slovakia.
Speaking during a meeting of the European Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control, Margarete Hofmann, director for expenditure, operations and investigations at OLAF, confirmed that her agency's investigations began as a result of Kuciak's murder.
"All the three investigations closed in 2020 regarding direct [agriculture] payments, were related to the issues brought to light by the work of the murdered journalist Jan Kuciak," Hofmann said.
MEP from neighbouring Czech Republic, Mikuláš Peksa, told Euronews just how opaque land ownership in Slovakia is, which allows corrupt practices with EU agricultural funds to take place.
"The ownership of land [in Slovakia] is very chaotic. It is really hard to justify who owns the land and who is entitled to receive money," Peksa said.
He added after the committee meeting that concrete steps were now needed on the part of the Slovak government, which was sworn in earlier this year.
"We have heard a lot about the fight against corruption in this case, but only a few of them have been put into practice," Peksa said.
The Minister of Agriculture in Bratislava, Samuel Vlčan, spoke by video link at the meeting in Brussels, saying they are already tightening payment rules and protecting EU funds.
"Since I took office, I can assure you that any problematic payments have been stopped," Vlčan said.
According to the European Commission, Slovakia faced €66 million worth of 'financial corrections' in 2020 due to the misuse of agricultural funds.