Murdered Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak was probing alleged high-level political corruption linked to the Italian mafia, the news portal he worked for said on Wednesday, as his killing sparked political fallout and fresh demonstrations.
A protest called by a conservative opposition party drew about 1,000 people in the capital, Bratislava.
Many held candles, marching in silence in sub-zero temperatures in memory of Kuciak, who was murdered along with his fiancee.
Others carried banners saying: “Mafia get out of my country” and used candles to spell out “Kuciak RIP.”
“We are here to show that Slovakia belongs to us and not the mafia,” Igor Matovic, the leader of the opposition OLaNO party, told the crowd.
The march was the first of several planned to honor Kuciak and protest against graft.
Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico accused the opposition of using the murder as a “political tool to get people out on the streets and gain power.”
An article by Kuciak published on Wednesday by aktuality.sk focused on fraud cases involving Italian businessmen linked to Fico’s entourage and forced two close associates to resign, while one minister quit in protest.
Maria Troskova, Fico’s assistant, was forced out after Kuciak alleged she had ties to Italians purportedly involved with the ’Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
Kuciak, 27, and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were found shot dead on Sunday at his home in Velka Maca, a town east of the capital Bratislava, raising concerns about media freedom and corruption in the nation.
At midnight, aktuality.sk and other Slovakian media published Kuciak’s last, unfinished investigative report on possible political links to Italian businessmen with alleged ties to Calabria’s notorious mafia supposedly operating in eastern Slovakia.
“Italians with ties to the mafia have found a second home in Slovakia. They started doing business, receiving subsidies, drawing EU funds, but especially building relationships with influential people in politics — even in the government office,” Kuciak wrote.
Troskova, 30, and Fico’s crisis management officer Viliam Jasan on Wednesday said they had given up their posts for the duration of the murder investigation, but denied links to the crime.
“We categorically reject any connection with this tragedy,” they said in a statement.
Slovakian Minister of Culture Marek Madaric, who is a member of Fico’s SMER-SD social democratic party, quit in protest, calling the murder “terrifying” and telling reporters that “after what has happened, I cannot imagine just calmly sitting in my minister’s chair.”
Slovakia’s leading SME broadsheet first revealed details of Kuciak’s investigation on Tuesday.
The report triggered an angry rebuke from Fico.
“Do not link innocent people without any evidence to a double homicide. It’s crossing the line. It’s no longer funny,” Fico said.
Political analyst Grigorij Meseznikov said the murder and its possible links to the Slovakian political elite “could prompt a political earthquake.”
“A red line has been crossed. This case could shake the electorate of the governing SMER-SD party to its foundations,” he said.
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