The Brief – Killing of journalists is mafia show of force

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

Four months after a huge car bomb explosion killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in Malta, Ján Kuciak, a 27-year-old reporter for the aktuality.sk news portal, and his girlfriend Martina Kušnírová were found killed on Sunday night in their home in Velka Maca, some 65 kilometres from the Slovak capital Bratislava.

A police official said Kuciak had died of a gunshot wound to the chest while his girlfriend was shot in the head. He said the motive was “most likely related to the investigative work of the journalist.”

Caruana Galizia’s murder sent shockwaves and alarmed the EU, which had expressed concerns over the rule of law in Malta. The island is considered by many as one of the most corrupt places in the EU. Investigations have not yet concluded, but what is clear is that the murder was professionally planned and executed.

In the case of Slovakia, some may remember the kidnapping of President Michal Kováč’s son in 1995. Kováč was a symbol of resistance to authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar, under whose rule Slovakia was denied an initial invitation to join the EU and NATO along with its central European post-communist neighbours.

As interim president after Kováč’s term expired, Mečiar granted amnesties that prevented the prosecution of 13 people, including a close ally who headed the country’s secret service, suspected of kidnapping Kováč’s son and taking him to Austria, where he was dumped outside a police station.

Caruana Galizia was the only journalist from Malta in the consortium that studied the Panama Papers. In 2017, she alleged that cabinet ministers and even Michelle Muscat, the wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, owned Panama companies.

In Slovakia, Kuciak has reported that real estate entrepreneur Ladislav Bašternák, who has issues with the justice, rents out a luxury apartment to Prime Minister Robert Fico. He has recently applied with the tax authorities for “active repentance” (thereby actually admitting to violating law), which would allow him to avoid judicial proceedings for tax fraud allegedly worth €2 million.

Bašternák, who is also being investigated in other tax fraud cases, has had deals with the current Interior Minister Kaliňák (Smer-SD), which was confirmed by the latter.

Both Caruana Galizia and Kuciak investigated collusion between politicians at the highest level and big business. Both received threats. Both were silenced in high-profile murders, also aimed at spreading the message: don’t mess with the mafia.

Of course, it is utterly unacceptable that a journalist is killed for doing his/her job. Of course investigations are needed, although most probably those will identify only the physical killer and not the sponsor who had commissioned the hit.

But most importantly, the killings of journalists prove that such and such a country is riddled by the mafia. Isn’t the mafia a systemic threat for the EU itself?

The Roundup

Angela Merkel has announced her top picks for minister posts in her (still unconfirmed) government. The chancellor made some “painful decisions” and now plays a waiting game as the SPD votes next week on the deal, after her own party voted overwhelmingly in favour.

Follow our Special Report from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The EU’s digital single market chief told Catherine Stupp that Europe has to roll out 5G technology “immediately”.

A Greek pharmaceutical scandal continues to raise tensions, while Jean-Claude Juncker insists the 2025 date bandied around as the next enlargement window for prospective EU members is not just reserved for frontrunners Montenegro and Serbia.

Energy firms are getting more and more behind the idea of embracing renewable energy but the transport sector still takes a lot of convincing. Europe’s mayors are on the frontline of climate action and some even buck the trend of their individual national governments.

UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn outlined his plans for a customs union post-Brexit. Leaving the EU could hurt both the bloc’s and the UK’s leading roles in development aid. A summit last week succeeded in mobilising more funding for the Sahel countries.

Despite warnings issued by regulators, the Commission is postponing a response to cryptocurrencies until the end of the year. Over in Lativa, there are worrying signs coming from its financial system.

We could all be enjoying free public transport and bike sharing during periods of high air pollution, under new regional government rules in Brussels. It’s a welcome move but surely it would be better to cut the problem at source and do something about the ridiculous traffic problem.

Look out for…

Juncker continues his Balkan tour and the General Affairs Council gets underway. Member states are expected to give the very final seal of approval to the emissions trading scheme update.

Views are the author’s

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