Slovakian journalist ‘was investigating political links to Italian mafia’ | World news

Published on February 28, 2018

The Slovakian journalist Ján Kuciak was investigating political corruption linked to an Italian mafia group at the time of his murder, according to a summary of his “last investigation” published on Wednesday.

Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, were found shot dead in their home last weekend in a killing that police have said is likely to have been related to his investigative work.

The summary, published by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), focuses on the alleged activities in Slovakia of people associated with the Italian organised crime group ’Ndrangheta. Entitled The Model, the Mafia, and the Murderers, it was jointly published with the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism (CCIJ), the Investigative Reporting Project Italy, and Aktuality.SK, a team of investigative reporters in Slovakia with whom Kuciak was working when he was killed.

The report describes how the project began with an investigation into why the Slovakian prime minister, Robert Fico, hired Mária Trošková, a then 27-year-old former topless model and Miss Universe contestant, as one of his assistants despite what it described as her relative lack of political experience.

“His press department had refused to release her job description, to clarify her position in government, or to say whether she got a security clearance,” the summary said.

The investigation took a dramatic turn after it emerged that Trošková had been a business partner of Antonino Vadala, 42, an Italian living in Slovakia with allegedly close ties to the ’Ndrangheta.

According to the report, in 2001 Italian police issued a warrant for Vadala’s arrest after wiretaps caught him discussing the logistics of hiding a fugitive drug trafficker and killer in his home in Calabria. The charges were dropped, however, after Vadala avoided arrest, having already moved to Slovakia. According to reports in the Slovakian press, Vadala has not responded to requests for comment.

A CCIJ reporter who knew Kuciak told the Guardian the investigation revealed that Italian organised crime members had “entered into business with regional politicians”, forming what was effectively a mafia syndicate.

The investigation was about to enter what Kuciak regarded as the “dangerous phase”, as he and colleagues from the CCIJ based in Prague were preparing to confront the key players. This hadn’t happened at the time of Kuciak and Kusnirova’s killings in their home in Vel’ká Mača, 40 miles (65km) east of Bratislava.

Kuciak focused mainly on tax evasion stories for and had recently been investigating the suspected theft of EU funds destined for eastern Slovakia by the Italian mafia.

The shootings have shocked the central European nation, with Andrej Kiska, the Slovakian president, saying he was left “shaken and terrified” by the “cold-blooded murder”. A group of Slovakian editors-in-chief said the murder was “directed against the freedom of expression and the right of citizens to control the powerful and those who violate laws”.

Fico, however, warned at a press conference on Tuesday against the “political abuse of a tragedy”, after opposition politicians accused members of his ruling party of being linked to the killings.

In response to questions about the associations of members of his inner circle, Fico did not mention Trošková by name, but warned the press not to jump to conclusions. “You are connecting innocent people to a double murder. That’s crossing the line.”

The prime minister drew condemnation for what one journalist described as a “vulgar” publicity stunt during the conference, as Fico, the interior minister, Robert Kaliňák, and the president of the police, Tibor Gašpar, stood next to an ornate table bearing large bundles of cash guarded by a masked and armed police officer: the €1m (£880m) reward Fico has promised for information leading to the arrest of the killers.

L to R: Gašpar, Fico and Kaliňák stand next to bundles of euros at the press conference. Photograph: Vladimír Šimíček/AFP/Getty Images

Filip Struhárik, an editor at the daily Denník N, criticised Fico for implying he had taken personal control of the investigation.

“Cash on the table is one thing,” he told the Guardian, “but it is also weird for him to say ‘we’ are investigating this, ‘we’ have this hypothesis, ‘we’ are pursuing these lines of inquiry. There is no ‘we’; this needs to be an independent investigation, especially when members of the prime minister’s own office have been linked to these stories about the Italian mafia.”

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