Slovak journalist and girlfriend shot dead over 'investigative work'

Slovak journalist and girlfriend shot dead over 'investigative work'

A Slovak journalist who was shot dead with his girlfriend was probably targeted because of his investigative work, police say.


Key points:

  • Bodies of Jan Kuciak and girlfriend found at his home
  • Kuciak known for exposing alleged corruption in big business and government
  • Deaths follows 2017 murder of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

The case has shocked the small central European country and highlighted public concerns about corruption.

Jan Kuciak, 27, had reported for the news site Aktuality.sk on fraud cases often involving businessmen with connections to Slovakia's ruling party and other politicians.

He and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova, also 27, were found dead on Sunday at his home in Velka Maca, 65 kilometres east of the capital Bratislava.

Aktuality's publisher Axel Springer condemned the "cruel assassination" of its journalist while the international group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was "appalled".

Slovakia's leaders promised to bring the perpetrators to justice, with the Government offering a 1-million-euro reward for information leading to an arrest.

"It seems that the most likely version is a motive connected to the investigative work of the journalist," Slovak police chief Tibor Gaspar said.

Kuciak's last story for Aktuality, on February 9, looked at transactions by firms linked to businessman Marian Kocner and connected to a Bratislava luxury apartment complex that became the centre of a political scandal last year.

Mr Kocner could not be reached for comment, but told the Slovak public broadcaster he had no connection to the case.

Kuciak's killing dismayed EU officials, including deputy European Commission chief Frans Timmermans, coming a few months after Malta's best-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed by a car bomb.

Longtime Bratislava-based investigative journalist, Tom Nicholson, said he had spoken to Kuciak a week ago about a case they both were looking at suspected Italian mafia abuse of European Union funds in Slovakia.

"There's not a lot of work done on foreign criminal gangs," Nicholson said.

"What Russians and Italians have been doing… particularly connected with European funds has been under-reported, and Jan had his teeth into one of those stories."

Slovakia's economy has boomed and living standards have risen sharply since it joined the EU in 2004, but many Slovaks say their country still fails to defend the rule of law, especially in punishing corruption and cronyism.

The case connected to the luxury apartment complex helped spark protests in 2017 seeking the resignation of Interior Minister Robert Kalinak over business dealings with property developer Ladislav Basternak, who has been investigated over possible tax fraud.

Both have denied wrongdoing in their dealings.

Attack on freedom of speech, PM says

A group of 14 editors-in-chief of Slovak publications released a statement calling on the state to solve the case and help to safeguard journalists' work.

"We are shocked and stunned about the news that Jan Kuciak and his companion obviously have been the victims of a cruel assassination," publisher Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia said in a statement.

It said there were "justified suspicions" that the murder was connected to Kuciak's "current research", but declined to say what that research involved.

Prime Minister Robert Fico convened an emergency meeting with Mr Kalinak, now the Attorney-General, the national chief of police and the head of the state intelligence service.

"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," Mr Fico said.

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