Thursday

13th Aug 2020

Slovak PM at risk over journalist murder

  • Fico has offered €1 million as a reward (Photo: council.europa.eu)

The Slovak government risks losing power, as international interest mounts into allegations of organised crime and EU fraud.

The possibility that prime minister Robert Fico could lose his parliamentary majority arose on Thursday (1 March), when Most-Hid, a junior party in his coalition, called internal talks on whether to quit the bloc in reaction to the killing of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his partner.

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  • Minute of silence for Kuciak and his partner Martina Kusnirova at European Parliament in Brussels

"It's an absolutely moral bottom," Igor Janckulik, a Most-Hid MP, said ahead of the party's meeting, according to Aktuality.sk, the Slovak media outlet for which the slain reporter had worked.

"At the moment, after this information regarding the murder of a journalist … I'm not staying in the coalition," he said.

Bela Bugar, the Most-Hid chief, also said that Fico should sack his interior minister Robert Kalinak over the affair, a call that the prime minister has so far resisted.

If Most-Hid left, Fico's bloc would fall to just 64 seats, short of the 76-seat majority needed to govern, most likely prompting snap elections.

The murdered journalist had reported, in two unfinished texts published after his killing on Sunday, that the Italian organised crime group, the 'Ndrangheta, had embezzled EU subsidies for Slovak farmers and for solar power plants and had personal links to senior figures in Fico's government.

Those figures included Viliam Jasan, the director of Fico's Crisis Management and State Security Department, and Maria Troskova, a former model who was hired as Fico's assistant, both of whom have resigned, but without admitting guilt.

Slovak police arrested some 10 people in connection with the case on Thursday.

They said that they were working with Europol, the EU's joint police agency in The Hague, with US investigators from the FBI, and with British, Czech, and Italian police to crack the case.

Fico has also offered a €1 million reward for information, but some journalists working at Aktuality.sk, a joint venture owned by German media group Axel Springer and Swiss group Ringier, have sought police protection because they still fear for their safety.

The affair prompted the European Commission to demand further information on the allegedly embezzled funds.

"Today we have sent a letter to the competent authority in Slovakia to request information about the possible misuse of agricultural funds," a Commission spokesman said on Thursday.

"We are aware of these media reports coming from Slovakia and are looking into the situation," he said.

Olaf, the EU anti-fraud office, declined to say whether it was conducting its own investigation.

But another international body, the Council of Europe, weighed in on the situation, with Nils Muiznieks, the council's human rights chief asking to meet with Fico to discuss developments.

The European Parliament also held a minute of silence for Kuciak and his slain partner, Martina Kusnirova, at its opening session in Brussels on Wednesday.

The killing in Slovakia comes after the assassination, last October, of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galizia had worked on stories about high-level corruption in the Maltese government and on Italian organised crime groups who smuggled Libyan oil via Malta.

"This [the Kuciak killing] is an unacceptable attack on the freedom of press, which is a founding value of our democracy, just a few months following the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia", Antonio Tajani, the EU parliament's Italian president, said on Wednesday.

"We will not stop raising our voices and continuing to keep a watchful eye so that those who are guilty are brought to justice," he said.

Europol, in its last report on Italian organised crime in 2013, said "The 'Ndrangheta is among the richest, most threatening, and most powerful organised crime groups at a global level".

Its activities outside Italy have included cocaine trafficking in the Netherlands and money laundering in the Dutch flower market in the 1980s and 1990s.

Europol also said the 'Ndrangheta, which has its origins in Calabria in south Italy, ran a €2 billion money laundering scheme involving internet gambling firms in Malta.

"We have a whole unit dealing with Italian organised crime and they are kept quite busy," a Europol contact told EUobserver.

Journalist murder shocks Slovakia

The reporter's research on alleged Italian mafia links with EU farm funds in Slovakia has been hinted at as a possible motive for his murder.

Threat to collapse Fico coalition after journalist killing

Junior coalition partner Most-Hid wants Slovaks to vote for a new parliament, after the killing of a journalist. "If talks about early elections fail, Most-Hid will exit the ruling coalition," its leader Bela Bugar said.

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