Interest groups in Slovakia are using mafia methods to make a grab for European Union direct grants for agricultural areas. And they do this by extorting farmland from rightful owners.

It’s a form of modern land-grabbing. In eastern Slovakia, there is a group of two dozen small and medium-sized farmers who are victims.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, the perpetrators use legal devices, networks made up of Slovak local politicians and businessmen are usurping control over arable land, in order to pocket EU direct grants for agricultural areas.

This business model is facilitated by legal loopholes and wiggle room in Slovak subsidy grant regulations, and, for another thing, by existing power structures in a country in which good relations with the ruling elites are of the essence.

According to DW, high-Slovakia’s Prosecutor General Jaromir Ciznar has admitted that an “agricultural mafia” is active in eastern Slovakia, in which local politicians and businessmen, aided by corrupt civil servants, strip farmers of their land in order to collect EU direct grants for agricultural areas.

Over the last couple of months, Slovak President Andrej Kiska called on government and authorities several times to solve the problems of farmers in eastern Slovakia. At the end of last week, he hosted a delegation of affected farmers after they had blocked Bratislava traffic with their tractors during a staged protest.

Agriculture minister Gabriela Matecna, for her part, had refused to see the protesting farmers. An inquiry panel has now been tasked with investigating the matter, but the farmers still feel they’re being strung along.