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New Details Emerge in the Case of Murdered Slovak Journalist

Jan Kuciak had been investigating links between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia organization ‘Ndrangheta.

28 February 2018

Revelations about the recent work of a murdered Slovak journalist might suggest the involvement of the Italian mafia in his death.

 

Kuciak, 27, and his partner were found dead of gunshot wounds yesterday at their home in Velka Maca, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Bratislava. Police said the killings took place sometime between last Thursday and Sunday.

 

“Kuciak had been working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism (CCIJ), and the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI) on an investigation that delved into the infiltration into Slovakia of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, one of the world’s most powerful and fearsome criminal groups,” according to OCCRP.

 

OCCRP and Aktuality.sk have decided to publish details about the articles Kuciak had been working on in order to “set the record straight and minimize the danger for the reporters who have worked on it.”

 

The investigation started with an inquiry into the hiring of a former Miss Universe contestant and topless model, Maria Troskova, as the assistant of Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, despite her lack of political experience. While Fico’s department refused to give any details about the decision, the team of investigative journalists revealed connections between her and Italian businessman Antonino Vadala.

 

Vadala was one of the people named in March 2017 by the Italian anti-mafia prosecutors’ office as a potential cocaine broker for a cartel of five families that are part of the ‘Ndrangheta clan and involved in cocaine trafficking from Latin America to Italy. Earlier, in 2001, Italian police had accused him of providing sanctuary for a fugitive drug trafficker, and it turned out, killer. Although an arrest warrant had been issued in his name, Vadala escaped arrest after he and his family moved from Italy to Slovakia. Charges were later dropped.

 

At the time of Kuciak’s murder, reporters were still collecting information about the possible connections between Vadala, Troskova, and Fico’s office, OCCRP writes.

 

The BBC reports that an unfinished article, published overnight by Slovak media outlets, includes allegations that businessmen in eastern Slovakia, linked to the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, were involved in schemes to embezzle EU structural funds.   

 

Investigative journalist Tom Nicholson, a Canadian who has lived for many years in Slovakia, wrote for Politico that he knew about Kuciak’s work from the latter’s editor, and that, while the Slovak mafia has no record of killing reporters, Italian organized crime gangs do.

 

As every journalist knows, the most dangerous part of the job always arrives just before publication, when the subject of your expose knows you are working on him and has a brief window of time to avoid being accused by name,” Nicholson write for Politico.

 

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico held a press conference yesterday, where he stood by a table piled with banknotes representing the 1 million euros that the Slovak state is offering in reward for any information about the killing.

 

Rumors about Kuciak’s work have been circulating, and even prompted the Slovak opposition to organize a press conference where they linked the murders to the ruling Smer party. Fico reacted to the charges by urging others not to “link innocent people without any evidence to a double homicide. It's crossing the line. It's no longer funny," according to the BBC.

 

Kuciak was the first journalist to be murdered in Slovakia’s modern history. His last published story reported on allegations of tax fraud connected to a luxury apartment complex in Bratislava. A company owned by businessman Marian Kocner was involved in buying or selling more than a dozen apartments in the complex, according to the story.

 

The journalist had received threats against him and his family in the past, including threatening phone calls, which he wrote about on Facebook, according to OCCRP. Although he reported them to the police, no investigations were undertaken, his Facebook posts said.

 

 

  • It didn’t take long for one of the websites often labeled as a prime distributor of disinformation in the Czech Republic to spring into action. AENews, better known as Aeronet.cz, published an article yesterday suggesting that Kuciak’s murder was part of a George Soros-inspired plot to spark anti-government protests and overthrow the government in another “Orange Revolution.”

 

  • A report released in 2015 by the Italian parliamentary anti-mafia committee showed that journalists have been increasingly the targets of organized crime groups, amounting to 2,060 “acts of hostility” between 2006 and October 2014, according to The Guardian. The perpetrators were identified and brought to justice in “very few cases,” according to the same report.

 

  • In the Czech Republic, the tragedy has led to criticism of incumbent head of state Milos Zeman, who has targeted the media in the past with verbal attacks, including an infamous “joke” shared with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which he called for the liquidation of journalists. “Every tragic event is the culmination of a chain of direct and indirect circumstances,” Robert Malecky wrote for the Czech daily E15.cz.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu

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