Slovak journalist’s murder leads to outcry and €1m reward

Police believe the killings of Jan Kuciak and his partner are linked to his investigative work

Police stand guard at the scene where Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were murdered, in Velka Maca. Photograph: Vladimir Simicekv/AFP/Getty Images

Police stand guard at the scene where Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were murdered, in Velka Maca. Photograph: Vladimir Simicekv/AFP/Getty Images

 

Slovakia has offered a €1 million reward to help solve the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend, which police believe was probably linked to his investigative work.

Mr Kuciak (27) and Martina Kusnirova were found dead on Sunday at his home in Velka Maca, 65km east of the capital, Bratislava. Police said the reporter had a bullet wound in his chest and his partner had been shot in the head.

“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,” said prime minister Robert Fico.

President Andrej Kiska said he was “horrified that something like this happened in Slovakia. We have to find the culprits as soon as possible and ensure the safety of all journalists.”

Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission, wrote on Twitter: “Shocked by the murder of a journalist in the EU. No democracy can survive without the free press . . . Justice must be served.”

Slovak police chief Tibor Gaspar said relatives of the victims had alerted his officers when they could not contact the couple. They were probably killed between last Thursday and Sunday, he added.

“From the information available . . . the most likely version is a motive connected to the investigative work of the journalist,” Mr Gaspar said.

Mr Kuciak wrote for the Aktuality.sk news portal and had looked into possible tax fraud connected with a luxury apartment block in Bratislava. Last year, the reporter said he had complained to the police about threats received from a businessman featured in his articles.

Political scandal

The apartment complex has become the focus of a political scandal in recent years, due to alleged tax fraud in the sale of apartments belonging to Ladislav Basternak, a property developer and business associate of interior minister Robert Kalinak.

Mr Fico happens to live in a rented apartment owned by Mr Basternak. They, and Mr Kalinak, deny any impropriety or illegal activity.

The Slovak government offered €1 million for help in solving the murder case, which would be investigated by a special team of prosecutors, intelligence agents and members of Mr Kalinak’s interior ministry staff, Mr Fico said.

An undated photo released by Aktuality.sk of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. Photograph: Aktuality.sk via AP
An undated photo released by Aktuality.sk of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. Photograph: Aktuality.sk via AP

The publisher of Aktuality, Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia, said it was “shocked and stunned” by Mr Kuciak’s murder, and would “do everything to support the investigating authorities to bring the perpetrator to justice.

“In case the crime was meant as an attempt to deter an independent publisher like [ours] from uncovering any infringements, we will use this as an opportunity to be even more conscientious and consistent in fulfilling our journalistic mission.”

Slovakia joined the EU and Nato in 2004, and for much of the last 20 years it has attracted foreign investors and enjoyed stability and economic growth.

For most of the 1990s, however, Slovakia was dominated by the autocratic Vladimir Meciar, who took the country into isolation and oversaw a corrupt system underpinned by murky ties between organised crime and the security services.