Slovakia launches murder probe after investigative journalist is shot dead
Bratislava — Police in Slovakia launched a murder probe on Monday after a leading journalist who investigated high-profile tax fraud was found shot dead along with his fiancee, sending shock waves through the small eurozone state.
The body of Jan Kuciak, a reporter for the aktuality.sk news portal owned by Axel Springer and Ringier, was discovered alongside that of Martina Kusnirova at their home in Velka Maca, 65km east of the Slovak capital Bratislava. Police commander Tibor Gaspar told reporters the motive was "most likely related to the investigative work of the journalist". Kuciak died from a gunshot wound to the chest while his partner was shot in the head, Gaspar said.
Leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico said his government was offering €1m for information leading to the killers’ capture.
"If the death of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak proves to be linked to his journalism, it would be an unprecedented attack on freedom of the press and democracy in Slovakia," Fico said.
Police discovered the bodies Sunday after family members failed to reach the pair for several days.
Police reportedly found ammunition arranged around the bodies with the Pravda daily describing the scene as a "warning". Tom Nicholson, a Bratislava-based journalist, told media that Kuciak had been working on a story about an Italian mafia scam based in eastern Slovakia defrauding EU structural funds.
The murder was condemned by European parliament chief Antonio Tajani, European commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and international organisations.
Slamming the "cowardly act", Juncker said that "the killing or intimidation of journalists have no place in Europe, no place in any democracy," according to a tweet by commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.
"The EU cannot accept that a journalist is killed for doing his job," Tajani wrote on Twitter.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned the attack, saying Kuciak and his family had recently been threatened, and noting he was the fifth journalist to be killed in the EU in a decade. "We demand an investigation to shed light on the exact circumstances of this case, especially since Jan Kuciak and his relatives received threats in recent months," said a statement from Pauline Ades-Mevel, who heads Reporters Without Borders’ EU-Balkans office.
Slovakia is ranked 17th in the 2017 Reporters Without Borders global press freedom rankings, down five places on the previous year.
Kuciak’s reporting focused mainly on allegations of tax evasion and fraud concerning high-ranking officials and tycoons. The last story he wrote was about businessman Marian Kocner, known for real estate deals.
Last year, the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) dropped an investigation into alleged tax fraud by Kocner, who had supposedly applied for tax refunds totalling €8.19m.
Known for threatening journalists, Kocner vowed last year to set up a website publishing information on reporters’ private lives, according to the leading SME daily.