Slovak Businessman Charged with Murder of Journalist, Reflects Widespread Hostility Towards Media

A memorial to the assasinated journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová at the World War One Memorial in the Slovak town of Rimavská Sobota. (Wikimedia Commons)

A memorial to the assasinated journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová at the World War One Memorial in the Slovak town of Rimavská Sobota. (Wikimedia Commons)

Slovak police charged a businessman with ordering the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová on March 14.

The police did not initially reveal the name of the suspect when confirming the charges on Facebook, but local media has named him as Marian Kočner, one of Slovakia’s most prominent businessmen.

Kuciak and Kušnírová were shot and killed in their home in February 2018, a few months after receiving a threatening phone call from Kočner. Kuciak reported the threat to the police, who dismissed the case without interviewing Kočner. The case rocked the nation, triggering mass protests and eventually forcing the resignation of Prime Minister and ruling party leader Robert Fico.

Kuciak worked as an investigative journalist with Slovakian media outlet, and reported on corruption, fraud, and Slovak politicians’ ties to the Italian mafia. The story he had been working on when he was killed details the settlement of people with close ties to Italian organized crime group ‘Ndrangheta within Slovakia. Before that, Kuciak had been investigating Kočner’s financial frauds and contacts in Slovak law enforcement agencies.

Kočner, who critics allege to be involved in more scandals and cases than any other Slovak politician or businessperson, has long been aggressive towards journalists. When threatened, he frequently blackmails journalists and politicians by leaking materials gathered from different surveillance sources.

Former PM Fico shares Kočner’s hostility towards journalists. Suspected to have ties with the Italian businessman and alleged mafia boss Antonino Vadala, who Kuciak heavily featured in his last story, Fico refuted the allegation and called Slovak media “the biggest threat to democracy.” He claimed to have set up a legal team to monitor the behavior of reporters and file criminal complaints when necessary, and demanded apologies from reporters, stating that they do not have the right to report on contacts between his party officials and Italian mafia.

In a press conference, Fico announced to the journalists in attendance: “I have no respect for you, I do not fear you at all,” and later reproached those who attempted to ask questions that he did not intend to answer. Accusing the media of leading an open war against his political party, he vowed to utilize “all legal and legitimate means to fight the media, until the situation returns to normal.”

Fico previously called journalists “anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “slimy snakes,” and threatened to sue Denník SME newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Beata Balogova for calling him the “central figure of the mafia in Slovakia” during an interview with the Austrian newspaper Kurier.

In an attempt to rid the “absurdities” published by the media, his government has attempted to amend the Press Code, an act heavily criticized by journalists around the world. His proposal grants politicians the right to reply to media content they dislike, that damages their honor or reputation. The International Press Institute condemned Fico’s attacks as "unacceptable for any political figure.”