Slovak Police Arrest Suspects In Mafia Hit That Nearly Brought Down Government

Seven months after Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were assassinated in what’s believed to have been a paid hit organized by an Italian organized crime group with deep ties to the Slovakian government, local police have finally arrested eight who were suspected of being involved with the killings, according to Reuters.

Slovak

The killings triggered a massive public backlash, as Kuciak had been working on a major story linking corrupt government officials, including former Prime Minister Robert Fico, to members of the ‘Ndrangheta, an organized crime group based in the Southern Italian region of Calabria. Thousands of Slovaks took to the streets to demand justice for Kuciak and Kusnirova, who were murdered in their apartment outside Bratislava back in February. The street demonstrations – the largest witnessed in the country since the 1989 revolution that brought down the former Communist regime – eventually forced Fico, his Interior Minister Robert Kalinak and police chief Tibor Gaspar from office. 

However, the three-party ruling coalition led by Fico’s Smer party has managed to hang on to power, with Fico still serving as party chief.

Police confirmed reports of the arrests to Reuters, which was initially notified via a statement from a lawyer working for Kuciak’s family

“In the early morning hours today police detained suspects in the premeditated murder of Jan Kuciak and (his fiancee) Martina Kusnirova,” lawyer Daniel Lipsic said on Facebook.

Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini welcomed the arrests with a social media statement on Thursday. A spokesman for the prime minister’s office said they had no additional information.

“The investigation and punishment of those guilty of this murder is one of the priorities of my government,” Pellegrini wrote.

Meanwhile, the corruption probe sparked by the murders – which is now the largest investigation in the country’s history – continues, with Interior Minister Denisa Sakova saying on Thursday that investigators had interviewed more than 200 people.

Slovak

A prosecutor said in March that the murders were likely related to Kuciak’s work. Police released a sketch of a possible witness and said they had narrowed down a list of possible motives to two. In the final story published before his murder, Kuciak published a story detailing links between figures reputedly involved an Italian organized crime figure with ties to two Slovaks who worked in Fico’s office. The men eventually resigned, but denied any links to the murder.

Kuciak had, among other things, investigated fraud cases involving businessmen with Slovak political ties. He had also looked into suspected mafia links between Italy and businesses in Slovakia.

Kuciak was found shot dead along with Kusnirova at their home outside Bratislava in February. They were both 27.

In his final story, published posthumously, he reported on an Italian living in Slovakia with past business links to two Slovaks who later worked in then-prime minister Robert Fico’s office.

Both of the Slovaks resigned but deny connections to the murder. Their Italian former business partner has also denied having connections with the mafia and the murder but was detained on a European drug trafficking warrant in March and extradited to Italy in May.

While the street demonstrations haven’t been held since March, organizers say they plan to maintain pressure on the ruling coalition.