Slovakia’s president said on Sunday (4 March) he would seek talks with parties and would urge forming a new government or holding early elections to renew public trust following the murder of an investigative journalist that has shaken the nation.
Thousands of people marched in the capital Bratislava and other cities on Friday for journalist Ján Kuciak, who had been looking into suspected mafia links among Italian businessmen in eastern Slovakia before he was found shot dead a week ago.
One of the men named in Kuciak’s report, which was published posthumously and probed potential abuse of EU subsidies and other fraud, had past links to people who subsequently worked for Prime Minister Robert Fico’s office.
“I will start talks with political leaders on how they imagine the future… and how to renew the trust of people into their own state. I see two options for now,” President Andrej Kiska said in a televised address.
Kiska, who does not have any formal powers to trigger the fall of the three-party government, said the first option would be “an extensive and essential reconstruction of government that would not polarise society.”
The second would be an election timed with regional polls in the autumn, which would need backing by three fifths of lawmakers.
Kuciak’s murder has raised fresh concern about media freedom and corruption both in Slovakia and Europe. It follows the October 2017 assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who had denounced corruption in Malta.
Slovak Police commander Tibor Gaspar, has said the motive for murder was “most likely” related to Kuciak’s investigative journalism.
In Italy, prosecutors have suggested that the ‘Ndrangheta may have been behind the killing of Kuciak and his fiancee who were found dead at their home near Bratislava on Sunday.
Kuciak was about to publish an article that raised possible political links between Italian businessmen operating in Slovakia and the ‘Ndrangheta.
Hours before the funeral, police released seven Italian nationals named in Kuciak’s report and who were detained on Thursday, a day after it was posthumously published.
Slovak media reported that among those held was businessman Antonino Vadala – the owner of several companies – and some of his relatives, alleged by Kuciak to have links to the mafia and contacts in the Slovak government.
Police investigators said that after “checking the facts” they were unable to bring charges within the legal 48-hour detention period.
Fico says murder used as “political tool”
The allegations in Kuciak’s report triggered an angry rebuke from Fico, who accused the opposition of using the murder as a “political tool to get people out on the streets and gain power”.
He showed reporters stacks of euro bills totalling the one-million-euro reward he has offered for information that could lead to the killers.
Interior Minister Robert Kalinak said on Facebook on Thursday that Italian police, Europol, the FBI and Scotland Yard pledged to help Slovak investigators.
Two close Fico associates were forced to resign after the article was posthumously published on Wednesday, while one minister quit in protest.
Echoing opposition parties, the leader of Most Hid, a junior partner in Fico’s three-party coalition, has also demanded Interior Minister Robert Kalinak resign.
The party said Saturday it would meet on March 12 to decide whether to quit the coalition after Kalinak refused to step down on Saturday.
The latest protests echoed a wave of anti-graft rallies by mostly young Slovaks last year demanding the dismissal of senior police officials and ministers in Fico’s government for alleged foot-dragging on fighting corruption.
Fico once told journalists they were “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes”, but he vowed his government was committed to the “protection of freedom of speech and the safety of journalists” in the wake of the murder.
Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) told AFP he had asked Fico on Friday in Bratislava to “clearly express his regrets” for having publicly insulted journalists, something the RSF chief called “dangerous”.
Fico’s office later issued a statement saying that there was “no call on the PM to apologise to journalists”, denying Deloire’s claim.
But contacted by AFP, Harlem Desir, the Freedom of the Media representative at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, confirmed that Deloire had called on Fico to apologise to journalists.
The European Parliament is expected to send a fact-finding mission to Slovakia as early as next week, German MEP Ingeborg Grassle said on Saturday.