Slovak fraud-busting journalist shot dead

Slovak fraud-busting journalist shot dead

Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancé, Martina Kušnírová, have been shot dead in their home to the east of the capital, Bratislava (pictured). 

“The evidence indicates that the murder was planned and did not result from a spontaneous confrontation,” police chief Tibor Gaspar told the media.

He said the murders were probably linked to Gaspar’s work.

The two bodies were found on Sunday evening in the town of Vel’ka Mača and there were signs that Kušnírová had tried to hide from her killer.

The 27-year-old’s work at the news site Aktuality.sk focused on tax evasion.

Kuciak’s last piece was published on February 9 and covered suspected tax fraud connected to a luxury apartment complex in the capital, called the Five Star Residence. The story identified suspicious transactions among five firms.

Kuciak had also recently been investigating the suspected theft by the Italian mafia of European Union funds destined for eastern Slovakia.

German publisher Axel Springer said Kuciak had been working for Aktuality, a subsidiary of Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, for the past three years.

“Although the background is not totally clarified, there is justified suspicion that the crimes are connected with current research by our colleague,” Springer said.

Reporters Without Borders said it was “appalled” by the murders and called for a thorough investigation, saying that Kuciak and his associates “had been threatened in recent months”.

In October, Kuciak posted on Facebook that he had reported to the general prosecutor’s office a threatening phone call from a Slovak business owner involved in the Bratislava apartments, Marian Kocner. “It has been 44 days since I filed a criminal complaint … for the threats. And the case probably does not even have a particular cop,” he wrote.

The National Criminal Agency (Naka) in 2017 dropped an investigation into alleged tax fraud by Kocner, who was reported to have said that he would publish information about the private lives of journalists reporting his case. Kocner has made no commented on the murders.

Last year, the suspected use of the Five Star Residence to commit tax fraud prompted large protests calling for the resignation of the interior minister, Robert Kaliňak, a close ally of Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, over his dealings with the developer, Ladislav Bašternák.

Fico called the murders “an unprecedented attack on freedom of the press and democracy in Slovakia”. He said he would offer a reward of €1 million for information leading to an arrest.

“We have to find those who did it as soon as possible and ensure the safety of all journalists,” President Andrej Kiska said.

 

 

Bratislava. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

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