Earlier this week, Slovak investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were found murdered in their home near Bratislava.
Kuciak, a journalist for actuality.sk, was working on a story on how the Italian organized crime organization, Ndrangheta, has been stealing funds destined for development projects in the country.
Part of his investigation also built ties between the Italian criminals and several local politicians including some linked to Primer Minister Robert Fico’s SMER-SD party.
In a recent article published by actuality.sk, Kuciak wrote, “Italians with ties to the mafia have found a second home in Slovakia. They started doing business, receiving subsidies, drawing EU funds, but especially building relationships with influential people in politics — even in the government office of the Slovak Republic.”
“They owned or still own dozens of companies. Their property is worth tens of millions of euros,” he added.
The Head of the Slovakian Police, Tibor Gaspar, told reporters that his organization is “focusing more on the scenario that [the murder is] related to his journalistic work, specifically to that case.”
Slovakian Primer Minister Robert Fico labeled this murder an “attack on democracy,” also mentioning that he has assigned “specialized units” to lead the investigation and offered “a million euros” as reward for detailed information on the case.
Fico said, “If it is proven that the death of the investigative reporter was connected with his journalistic work, it would be an unprecedented attack on freedom of speech and democracy in Slovakia.”
Italians Detained & Politicians Resign in Slovakia
Seven Italian nationals have been detained for questioning by Slovakian police authorities.
Three of the detainees, including Ndrangheta’s Antonino Vadala, had been mentioned in Kuciak’s last story.
Furthermore, as a result of Kuciak’s final article, three senior members of the Fico administration have stepped down.
As reported by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “Minister of Culture, Marek Madaric…assistant to Prime Minister Fico, Maria Troskova, and the Secretary of the State Security Council, Viliam Jasan, have…stepped down until an investigation into the allegations is complete.”
Troskova and Jasan released a join statement claiming they’re innocent and that “combining our names with this nasty act (the murder of a journalist) by some politicians or the media is absolutely over the line.”
Kuciak Worked on Exposing Corruption & Tax Fraud in Slovakia
For the past several years, Kuciak had worked on a series of articles exposing corruption and tax fraud in Slovakia.
According to The Slovak Spectator, Kuciak had dedicated time to investigations focusing on “tax frauds connected with the Five Star Residence block of flats and shady businessman Ladislav Bašternák, a crony of top politicians of the ruling Smer party.”
Furthermore, The New York Times reports that Kuciak had recently written pieces on “shady financing or tax evasion in companies connected to well-known Slovak oligarchs and businessmen, many of them linked to the governing party, or to two powerful men: Robert Kalinak, the interior minister, and Jan Pociatek, a former finance minister.”
Opposition & Press Speak Out on Behalf of Kuciak & Freedom of Speech
Despite the Prime Minister’s reassurance, his opposition has asked for Gaspar and Interior Minister Robert Kalinak to step down as a result of Kuciak’s investigation and subsequent murder.
Conservative MP Igor Matovic told reporters, “Kalinak and Gaspar bear the responsibility for the security of people in this country and due to their failure to prevent this brutal assassination they should step down.”
Furthermore, things might not end well for Fico who, in the past, has referredto journalists as “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes.”
In a comment to AFP, political analyst Grigorij Meseznikov said this case “could prompt a political earthquake.”
“A red line has been crossed,” Meseznikov says. “This case could shake the electorate of the governing SMER-SD party to its foundations.”
Fellow reporters also came out in defense of freedom of speech and the protection of journalists.
“This killing, which comes so soon after last year’s assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, is a terrible sign for journalism in the EU and underscores the risks that journalists continue to face, even in democratic states such as Slovakia,” said the Executive Director of the International Press Institute (IPI), Barbara Trionfi. “We must now double down on our efforts to protect the safety of journalists.”
Furthermore, Tom Gibson, the EU representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), spoke to DW and said, “With two cases of murdered journalists within half a year, it is clear that investigative journalists in EU member states are not safe. Whilst Brussels starts to engage in the latest round of discussions on corruption allegations, officials should at the same time ask themselves: what can we be doing better to protect the free press?”
According to Bloomberg, this is the fifth case in the European Union during the past 10 years in which a journalist has been assassinated as a result of their investigative work on corruption.
Slovakia currently ranks seventeenth out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders 2017 Global Press Freedom Index, five places below its 2016 ranking.