politics

Slovakia's First-Ever Journalist Murder Seen Linked to Story

Updated on
  • Investigative work ‘most likely’ motive of double killing
  • Jan Kuciak reported on tax fraud with links to politicians

Policemen stand guard outside the crime scene where Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend were murdered in Velka Maca, some 50km from Bratislava, Slovakia, on Feb. 26, 2018. 

Photographer: Vladimir Simicek/AFP via Getty Images

A Slovak journalist who reported on economic crimes linked to politicians was murdered at his home with his girlfriend, in an attack the police said was “most likely” because of his investigative work.

Jan Kuciak, a 27 year-old reporter at the aktuality.sk news website, was found shot dead with his partner on Sunday in their home in Velka Maca, western Slovakia, Police President Tibor Gaspar told journalists in Bratislava. It was the first-ever high-profile murder of a journalist in the former-communist European Union country. Given the likely motive, police will provide protection for other journalists working for aktuality.sk, he said.

“Slovakia has never faced such an unprecedented attack on a journalist,” Gaspar said. “The most likely scenario is a motive linked to his investigative journalism.”

Despite a string of scandals reported by media implicating officials and business leaders and a call by Prime Minister Robert Fico to crack down on graft, no active senior politician has been convicted of wrongdoing. The murders follow a deterioration of relations in neighboring Poland and Hungary between governments and news providers, with Poland falling to 54th in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 Global Press Freedom Index of 180 countries and Hungary sliding to 71st. Slovakia was 17th.

While Slovakia has made headway in catching up with its richer western peers in terms of living standards, a sense of frustration is mounting over the way the government rules the ex-communist country of 5 million people. Public discontent with what citizens view as widespread corruption helped fuel support for anti-establishment parties that scored surprising victories in 2016 elections and has triggered street protests in Bratislava.

The case is the fifth instance of a journalist being murdered in the EU in the past 10 years, according to Reporters Without Borders. In October last year, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed. She’d testified before a European Parliament panel about her work investigating the Panama Papers case concerning Maltese government officials.

Website Responds

Kuciak recently reported on the intransparent public procurement of software and an alleged case of tax fraud by a real-estate developer who rents Fico an apartment. A joint statement by Axel Springer SE and Ringier AG, who own the web site in a joint venture, said the publisher will support authorities to help find the perpetrators.

If his murder “was an attempt to prevent an independent publisher from uncovering failings, we will take this as an opportunity to exercise our journalistic mission even more conscientiously and consistently," they said in an emailed statement.

Fico, who has frequently accused journalists of unfair reporting -- he has even called them “dirty prostitutes” in public -- condemned the murder and announced a 1 million-euro ($1.2 million) reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.

(Updates with murder of Maltese journalist in sixth paragraph.)
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