A female suspect allegedly paid tens of thousands of euros for the assassination of a Slovak reporter, whose death shocked the nation and led to the resignation of its prime minister, prosecutors said Monday.
The suspect, identified as Alena Zs, allegedly ordered the murder, paying €50,000 ($58,100) and forgiving a debt of €20,000. The hitman was identified as Tomas Sz, a former police officer. Two other accomplices are in custody.
Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova were found dead from gunshots wounds at their home near Bratislava in February. Kuciak, 27, had been reporting on links between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia. Prosecutors say he was killed to prevent his story from being published. Kusnirova was apparently an unintended victim.
Kuciak’s death was the first targeted killing of a journalist in the country’s history. Public outcry against the murders and government corruption was so strong that Prime Minister Robert Fico was forced to resign in March.
Local media reported Alena Zs had been an interpreter for Slovak multimillionaire Marian Kocner, whose business activities were being scrutinized by Kuciak at the time of his death. Kocner is reportedly the godfather of the Alena Zs’ daughter.
Kocner, 55, owns several companies. He has been in custody since June on suspicion of having forged promissory notes. He has not been charged in connection with Kuciak’s killing.
Observers say the murders are characteristic of a European political climate that has increasingly shifted away from freedom of the press.
“Despite the fact that Slovakia is a democracy and is an EU member, there has been this somewhat negative trend in regards to media freedom for some time,” Gulnoza Said of the Committee to Protect Journalists told VOA News. “It climaxed this year when Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were found murdered.”
“That just shows that even the situation in countries that have always been, or at least for some time have been considered democracies, is changing,” she said.