One year after the murder of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, serious questions remain unanswered. The latest media revelations have raised concerns about the extent to which the government was involved.
On February 21, 2018, investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were killed at their home northeast of Slovakia's capital, Bratislava. They were both 27 years old. The crime shook Slovakia to its core and sparked horror and dismay across the world.
Police immediately assumed the murder was related to an investigation Kuciak was working on at the time. The idea that he would be killed for uncovering the truth made people in Slovakia question whether they actually lived in a country governed by the rule of law.
One year later, many Slovaks still have those same doubts. There has been some progress on the murder investigation: the alleged killer and several accomplices have been arrested. But at the same time, details are coming to light about the extent to which the Slovak government itself was involved.
Loss of confidence
Slovak President Andrej Kiska, for many the good conscience of the nation, warned recently that people expect decency in politics and justice in their country; otherwise they could not believe in the state.
It was due in part to Kuciak's reporting that trust in the Slovak government began to wane among the general public. Shortly before his assassination, Kuciak had learned that Maria Troskova, a consultant and presumed lover of then-Prime Minister Robert Fico, was a business partner and ex-lover of an Italian mafia member residing in eastern Slovakia.
This controversy helped trigger Fico's resignation a few weeks after Kuciak's murder, and followed the resignation of Interior Minister Robert Kalinak. At the time, many people in Slovakia believed the mafia may have killed Kuciak.
But now, the evidence is pointing in a different direction. Last fall, the suspected assassin and three other people were arrested, including a woman named Alena Zs., who is said to have helped facilitate the assassination. Businessman Marian Kocner, who has been in custody since June 2018 for various white-collar crimes, is believed to have been the client. Kocner threatened Kuciak by phone in the fall of 2017, saying he would "pursue" the reporter and his family. Kuciak filed a complaint with the police, but nothing was done.
Accomplices in the highest levels of government?
Last fall, former intelligence officer Peter Toth, who is a witness in the murder case, admitted to investigators that he had shadowed Kuciak on behalf of Kocner. In addition, Slovak media recently reported that the police database on Kuciak had been tapped by a law enforcement official a few months before his murder, and that the order to do so had been issued by the then-police chief, Tibor Gaspar. Gaspar resigned after Kuciak's murder and has denied any involvement, including the order to track his data.
There is now growing concern that the Slovak underworld and the government jointly shadowed Kuciak, and that high-ranking officials could have at least known about the murder.
This suspicion has been corroborated by reports in the Slovak media that Alena Zs. had regular contact with several high-ranking politicians and officials until shortly before her arrest, including Deputy Prosecutor General Rene Vanek. Vanek has admitted having a "chatroom relationship" with Alena Zs. and was subsequently dismissed. Whether he shared state secrets with her is unclear; he claims not to have known anything about the plan to murder Kuciak.
Despite these revelations, the country's ruling government coalition, headed by Fico's nominally social democratic SMER party, the right-wing nationalist SNS party and the Hungarian minority party Hid-Most, has taken practically no action. On the contrary: A draft law is currently before parliament to give politicians an almost unlimited right of reply when the press reports on them. If the regulation were to come into force, the media would be obligated to publish dozens of statements by politicians on a daily basis.
Slovakia's Association of Newspaper Publishers has strongly protested against the plan. "On the sad anniversary [of the murder of Jan Kuciak] we unfortunately have to state that nothing has been done to protect journalists and improve their safety," the organization said in a statement.