Slovak court upholds most of criminal law reform, strikes down elements

(Reuters) -Slovakia's Constitutional Court struck down minor elements of the government's criminal law reform on Wednesday but left intact major parts that reduce punishments for financial crimes and shorten the statute of limitations.

The reform, approved by parliament earlier this year, has been criticised by former president Zuzana Caputova and the opposition, as well as by the European Commission.

Constitutional Court Chairman Ivan Fiacan said the court struck down clauses allowing a reopening of past plea deals, under which some suspects were given lower punishments in return for cooperating with investigators, or property seizures.

But he said it also rejected petitions against the gist of the legislation as well as the fast-track parliamentary procedure used to approve it.

The court also upheld the government's abolition of a special graft unit earlier this year.

The ruling further upheld a clause in the law shortening the statute of limitations on many crimes, which critics said would mean that many corruption inquiries would be forever dropped.

Critics see the reform as an attempt by the coalition led by Prime Minister Robert Fico, who took power for the fourth time last October, to protect its politicians and allies from graft probes which were launched when they were in opposition.

Fico has accused the previous government and the special prosecution office dealing with serious crimes and corruption of using criminal investigations against the opposition.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague; editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)