Slovak president nixes 2019 re-election bid amid allegations

Bratislava (AFP) –


Popular Slovak President Andrej Kiska said on Tuesday he would not run for re-election next year citing personal reasons amid allegations by rivals that the self-made millionaire breached spending rules during his 2014 campaign.

Running as an independent liberal, Kiska defeated former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico, a populist leftist, who is the powerful leader of the eurozone country's governing Smer Social Democratic party.

"I will not run for president a second time," Kiska said, via a televised press conference, adding that he wants to spend more time with his family.

The move came just one day after Fico called for Kiska to resign, accusing him of exceeding the 132,775 euro ($157,000) legal spending limit on his presidential campaign.

A 2015 tax probe leaked to the media last year suggested that the KTAG company formerly owned by Kiska paid 27,000 euros less than it should have in taxes, fueling allegations that the company may have used the money to finance his presidential campaign.

"There is a grave suspicion that he significantly overspent the legal cap via the KTAG firm," Fico told reporters in Bratislava on Monday, adding that if the tax report is confirmed, Kiska has "no choice but to resign."

Kiska and Fico have clashed on many fronts, most recently amid the political crisis triggered by the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.

He was gunned down gangland style in February as he was about to publish an explosive report on alleged high-level corruption and contacts between top Slovak politicians and Italy's notorious 'Ndrangheta mafia.

Weekly mass protests triggered by his murder forced Fico's government to resign in March. The new government retains most members of Fico's previous Smer administration and, as party leader, he is widely seen as still pulling the strings.

Kiska said Tuesday that the murder had "caused the greatest crisis of confidence in the history of modern Slovakia" and had "revealed the consequences of a failing state and a corrupt government."

Prosecutors said last week they were virtually certain that Kuciak was specifically targeted. Police said that his death was "most likely" related to his report.

Italian businessman Antonino Vadala, alleged by Kuciak to have ties to officials in Fico's inner circle and the Italian mafia, is charged with attempted EU subsidy fraud in Slovakia. He has denied any wrongdoing. He was extradited to Italy on separate drugs charges on Tuesday.

Slovaks will elect a new president next spring. While political parties have not yet presented their candidates, some independents have said they will run, including Supreme Court Justice Stefan Harabin.