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Slovakian journalist investigating claims of tax fraud linked to ruling party shot dead

Source: The Guardian

Police chief says murder of reporter and his girlfriend is probably linked to his work
Daniel Boffey in Brussels and agencies
Mon 26 Feb 2018

A journalist investigating alleged tax fraud involving businessmen connected to Slovakia’s ruling party has been found murdered alongside his girlfriend.

Ján Kuciak, 27, and his fiancee, Martina Kušnírová, were discovered shot dead in the home they shared after worried relatives alerted police, saying it had been a week since they had heard from the couple.
Slovakia’s most senior police officer, Tibor Gašpar, told reporters the murders “likely have something to do with [Kuciak’s] investigative activities”.

The two bodies were found on Sunday evening in the town of Vel’ka Mača, east of the capital, Bratislava. Gašpar said the reporter was shot in the chest and Kušnírová in the head. He said they were thought to have been killed between Thursday and Sunday. There were signs that Kušnírová had tried to hide from her killer.
A €1m reward for information on the perpetrators has been made available by the Slovak government.
The prime minister, Robert Fico, said in a statement that if the attack was proven to be linked to the journalist’s work it would amount to an “an unprecedented attack on freedom of the press and democracy in Slovakia”.

Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European commission, tweeted: “Shocked by the murder of a journalist in the EU. No democracy can survive without the free press, which is why journalists deserve respect and protection. Our thoughts go out to the loved ones of Ján Kuciak & his girlfriend Martina Kušnírová. Justice must be served.”

Kuciak was working for the Aktuality.sk news website, where he focused mainly on tax evasion stories. His last piece was published on 9 February and covered a suspected tax fraud connected to a luxury apartment complex in Bratislava known as the Five Star Residence. The report identified suspicious transactions among five companies.
Kuciak had been covering the story for some time. In October 2017, he wrote on his Facebook page that he had reported to the general prosecutor’s office a threatening phone call from a local businessman involved in the apartments, Marian Kocner. “It has been 44 days since I filed a criminal complaint … for the threats. And the case probably does not even have a particular cop.”

Last year, the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) dropped an investigation into alleged tax fraud by Kocner, who had reportedly said that he would set up a website publishing information on the private lives of journalists reporting his case. Kocner has not commented on the murders.
Kuciak had also recently been investigating the suspected theft of EU funds destined for eastern Slovakian by the Italian mafia.

Gašpar said everyone who had been in touch with the journalist would be investigated Police would provide protection for an unspecified number of other reporters from Aktuality, he said, but gave no details of the measures to be taken.

Last year, the suspected use of the complex of the Five Star Residence apartments to commit tax fraud prompted thousands of protesters to take to the streets calling for the resignation of the interior minister, Robert Kaliňak, a close ally of Fico, over his business dealings with its developer, Ladislav Bašternák.
Bašternák has been investigated by the police over possible tax fraud. Kaliňak, who is number two in Fico’s Smer party, which leads Slovakia’s coalition government, is said to have a 17% stake in the developer’s companies. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

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Mumbai Press Club
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Article posted on 28/02/2018

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