Slovak police detain suspects over murder of reporter and his fiancee

Jan Kuciak shot dead in February after finding alleged government-mafia links

 Slovak investigative reporter Jan Kuciak (27) and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova (27) were shot dead in February. Photograph:  Reuters/Radovan Stoklasa

Slovak investigative reporter Jan Kuciak (27) and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova (27) were shot dead in February. Photograph: Reuters/Radovan Stoklasa

 

Slovak police have detained several suspects in the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, whose killing in February stunned the nation and prompted major street protests and a political crisis.

Police launched a special operation in the town of Kolarovo, about 75km east of the Slovak capital Bratislava, in the early hours of Thursday, with patrol cars blocking streets and masked officers searching houses as a helicopter circled overhead.

“The investigation and punishment of those guilty of this murder is one of the priorities of my government,” said Slovak prime minister Peter Pellegrini, who took office in March after the resignation of long-serving premier Robert Fico.

“I hope this terrible crime will be solved, and its motive and those who ordered it revealed, so that it stops dividing our society,” he added.

Slovak news reports said that eight people had been detained, but police have not revealed their identities or what charges they may face.

Mr Kuciak and Ms Kusnirova were found shot dead at his home outside Bratislava on February 25th. They were both 27.

In his last investigation, which was published after his death, Mr Kuciak revealed links between political figures close to Mr Fico and Italian businessmen in Slovakia who are allegedly part of the Calabria-based Ndrangheta crime group. He also looked into apparent EU farm subsidy scams in eastern Slovakia that the bloc’s inspectors are now evaluating.

Resignations

The double murder and its possible link to a nexus of politics and organised crime deeply shook Slovaks’ faith in their government, prompting the resignation of Mr Fico, interior minister Robert Kalinak and his successor Tomas Drucker and Slovak police chief Tibor Gaspar.

Mr Fico’s Smer party clung to power with its coalition partners, but it is under continued pressure to solve the murder and fight corruption from civil society groups that have organised Slovakia’s biggest protests since the collapse of communism.

“Obviously, I regard this positively. Investigators and prosecutors wanted to conduct this part of the investigation only after obtaining an adequate amount of information,” said Daniel Lipsic, a lawyer for Mr Kuciak’s family.

Protests

“So I am stressing that this is still just a part of the investigation. Another part, concerning those who ordered the murder, has not been wrapped up yet. Today’s events might, however, help the investigators move forward and towards those who ordered it,” he told Slovakia’s Sme newspaper.

The arrests were made a day before anti-government protests were due to resume.

“Tomorrow’s march for a decent Slovakia will take place,” the organisers said in response to news of the detentions.

“We hope this morning’s police operation will indeed lead to the capture of those who killed Jan and Martina. However, we must remember that...it is absolutely essential for the public to know the name of whoever ordered the murder,” they added.

“Jan and Martina were murdered because Jan wrote about the connection between the mafia and government politicians. We still have to ask – who ordered this murder? Why did Jan have to be silenced?”