July 3 (Reuters) – Slovak central bank chief and European Central Bank rate setter Peter Kazimir pleaded innocent to bribery charges on Monday in a trial that could put a sharper spotlight on both the Bratislava- and Frankfurt-based institutions.
The case concerns “suspicion of corrupt criminal activity in connection with tax audits against several commercial companies” when Kazimir was finance minister in the previous government, prosecutors said in February.
Kazimir has maintained his innocence in the case, which comes to trial after a ruling against him by a criminal court judge in April. An appeal sent the case to a full trial.
“I am not interested in entering a plea agreement,” Slovak news website DennikN.sk quoted Kazimir as telling the judge on Monday. “I am innocent.”
Kazimir said in a separate statement on Monday he would continue his work as central bank governor, despite some calls to resign.
“I am convinced of my innocence and will use all available possibilities and means of legal defence and protection of my name at the domestic, and if necessary, at the European level,” Kazimir said in the statement provided by the central bank.
Under Slovak central bank statutes, board members can continue to serve with a criminal record provided that record is clear of “final convictions for a deliberate crime”.
A final verdict, given appeals processes, can take years.
Kazimir started a six-year term as governor in 2019. He was finance minister from 2012 to 2019 before being nominated as governor by the leftist SMER party, which lost power in 2020 but is leading polls before a September election.
The special prosecutor’s office charged Kazimir in October 2021, but withdrew the charge less than a year later pending a review. Slovak police revived the charge last November.
In October 2021 Slovak news website http://www.aktuality.sk, citing several unidentified sources, reported that Kazimir was charged in a case related to an alleged bribe for a former Slovak tax administration chief, who had been charged in several cases and was then cooperating with investigators.
The news website said Kazimir was accused of being a “courier” who carried a bribe of some 50,000 euros ($53,370) related to unspecified tax proceedings to the tax chief.
In 2018, Latvia barred its central bank governor from office and prevented him from taking part in ECB meetings after he was accused by its public prosecutor of taking a bribe, an accusation the governor denied. A court case is ongoing.
Photo – Slovak central bank chief and European Central Bank rate setter Peter Kazimir . EPA-EFE/FLORIAN WIESER