The murder of a young investigative journalist and his fiancee has sparked a strong outcry from Slovak politicians, journalists and the wider public.
The reporter’s research on alleged Italian mafia connections with EU farm funds in Slovakia has been suggested as a possible motive for assassination.
Police found the bodies of Jan Kuciak, 27, shot in the chest and his partner Martina Kusnirova, shot in the head, on late Sunday (25 February) in their home in Velka Maca, western Slovakia, following a call by Kusnirova’s parents that they could not reach her for several days.
As there was no sign of a violent break-in at the house or looting, according to police chief Tibor Gaspar, it was “most likely” that the murder was linked with the journalist’s work.
As a reporter for online news website Aktuality.sk, Kuciak wrote about serious economic crimes and illegal activities involving several high profile Slovak businessmen and their relations with top politicians.
According to the Slovak SME daily on Tuesday Kuciak was also working on a story linking prime minister Robert Fico’s assistant with an Italian businessman in Slovakia.
According to a prominent investigative reporter Tom Nicholson, Kuciak recently researched business groups in eastern Slovakia dealing with EU agriculture subsidies and their possible links with Italian mafia from Calabria, the so called Ndrangheta.
Nicholson told the Dennik N daily that he had spoken with Kuciak about the issue and his new findings just a week before the murder. The chief editor of the Aktuality.sk Peter Bardy announced that Kuciak´s pending story will be published “as soon as possible.”
“You have triggered determination, not fear,” the editor said.
Aktuality.sk is a news website published by Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia. It contains serious political and economic news but also links to more tabloid content produced by the same publisher, like the top circulation Novy Cas daily.
PM Fico of the ruling Smer Social Democratic party declared a reward of €1 million for any information that would help police in arresting those responsible.
If it proved related to journalism, the murder would be “an unprecedented attack against press freedom and democracy in Slovakia,” Fico said in a statement.
He also protested against “a political abuse of the tragedy” in reaction to comments by opposition politicians hinting at numerous reports by Kuciak on Fico’s Smer party bigwigs and their business activities.
Richard Sulik, MEP and chairman of the main opposition SaS liberal party said: “We expect that the investigation of this murder will be carried out in quite a different speed than frauds of some obscure businessmen” – naming the entrepreneur Ladislav Basternak, who has been accused of tax fraud.
While the interior minister Robert Kalinak has faced several parliamentary attempts for dismissal due to his past dealings with Basternak, prime minister Fico is still renting a luxury apartment in his Bonaparte residential complex in Bratislava.
Despite a number of high-profile scandals reported by Slovak media and involving officials and business leaders, no active senior politician has been convicted of wrongdoing.
Fico’s political opponents also reminded him of his own previous statements regarding media and journalists – like his comment in November 2016 that “some of you are dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes.”
On Monday, Slovak journalists expressed protest against the murder of their colleague and chief editors of the main media issued a joint statement urging the police to arrest the perpetrators, and calling upon the state authorities to provide “conditions for the safe work of journalists.”
Citizens paid their tributes by the offices of the Aktuality.sk website and several other parts of the country, with more public protest marches planned for the coming days.