Slovak authorities identify possible witness in journalist’s murder

People hold banners of re-painted portraits of Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico (C) and Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák (R) as they participate in a rally called 'Let's stand for decency in Slovakia' in Bratislava, Slovakia, 16 March 2018. [Christian Bruna/EPA/EFE]

Slovak authorities have identified a possible witness in the murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, whose killing last February led mass protests that forced the government to resign, a state prosecutor said on Monday (17 September).

It was the first development in the case in the six months since the murder.

“This person may have been present at or close to the crime scene around the time the crime was committed and may have information about the crime,” the prosecutor overseeing the case told a news conference.

He declined to answer questions on whether that person was a suspect or just a witness.

Kuciak, who had written about political corruption in Slovakia, was found shot dead along with his fiancée Martina Kušnírová at their home outside Bratislava in February. They were both 27.

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The murder – which police have called a professional hit – raised fears over media freedom in ex-communist Eastern Europe, and led to mass protests across the nation that forced the departure of previous police chief Tibor Gašpar as well as Prime Minister Robert Fico and interior minister Robert Kaliňák.

The cabinet was reshuffled with Fico’s deputy Peter Pellegrini taking over as prime minister but the three-party centre-left coalition stayed in power.

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The prosecutor, who declined to give his name, said authorities had also whittled down possible motives to two.

He held up a sketch of the possible witness depicting a white man with a beard and dark hair who appeared to be in his late 20s to early 30s. He provided no other details.

“Despite initial mistakes in investigation, we have narrowed down possible motives from 30 to two,” the prosecutor said. “I believe we will be successful in the end.”

The update on Monday came after more than 300 Slovak journalists and publishers last month criticised police for the lack of progress in the murder investigation and alleged corruption described by Kuciak.

“As no fundamental changes to the police or to the prosecutorial bodies have taken place, we have doubts about the independence of the investigation,” they said in a statement.

Kuciak had covered Slovak businessmen mentioned in the Panama Papers and also probed fraud cases involving businessmen with Slovak political ties. He had also been looking into suspected mafia links of Italians with businesses in Slovakia.

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