Before he was murdered last week with a single shot to the chest, and his body left alongside that of his fiancée, who was killed with one shot to the head, the Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak had been amassing evidence that an Italian businessman living in Slovakia was part of the ‘Ndrangheta, a Calabrian organized crime network.
Kuciak’s final, unfinished report for the news site Aktuality.sk, on money-laundering, tax fraud, and drug smuggling by the ‘Ndrangheta in Slovakia, was published on Wednesday by several Slovak websites.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, or OCCRP, which had supported Kuciak’s work, also published an overview of the investigation.
According to the OCCRP, Kuciak and his colleagues had started their investigation “by looking into the hiring of Maria Troškova, then 27, by Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico as an assistant.”
Fico hired the former Miss Universe contestant and topless model (dubbed “the sexy assistant” by Slovak media) despite her relative lack of political experience. His press department had refused to release her job description, to clarify her position in government, or to say whether she got a security clearance.
But while looking into this story, the reporting team uncovered an even bigger one. As it turns out, Troskova used to be a business partner of Antonino Vadala, 42, an Italian man who now lives in Slovakia and owns a network of agricultural companies in the east of the country.
Kuciak, 27, discovered that Vadala was named as a suspect last year by Italian prosecutors investigating cocaine smuggling by a cartel of five ‘Ndrangheta crime families.
Kuciak and his colleagues, the OCCRP reported, “were still collecting additional information about Vadala — as well as about Troskova’s role, if any, as the link between him and the Prime Minister’s office — when Jan Kuciak was murdered.”
Vadala’s lawyer had refused to comment on the allegations when contacted by Kuciak’s investigative team in November.
As the investigative journalist Tom Nicholson reported this week, a focus of Kuciak’s work had been the fraudulent payment of European Union funds meant to support businesses in the economic bloc’s poorer countries “to Italian nationals resident in Slovakia and with alleged ties to the ‘Ndrangheta, the organized crime group from Calabria.”
OCCRP plans to publish more reporting by Kuciak soon, showing how the system of EU farm subsidies for Slovak land owners was abused by Italian mafia figures.
After Fico offered 1 million euros for information leading to the arrest of whoever murdered Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, Nicholson suggested that the Slovak secret service “already has the gangsters’ names; both Ján and I were operating from leaked intelligence documents.”
A graphic published with Kuciak’s reporting by Aktuality, the Slovak site he worked for, traced the ways in which Vadala, a supporter of Slovakia’s prime minister, was linked to Fico and other senior members of his ruling party.
According to Kuciak’s reporting, Troškova had co-founded the Slovak company GIA Management with Vadala four years before she was hired by the prime minister, despite her apparent lack of political experience.
At a bizarre news conference on Tuesday, two days after the bodies of Kuciak and Kušnírová were discovered in their home outside Bratislava, the prime minister, with Interior Minister Robert Kalinák and Slovak police chief Tibor Gašpar, displayed 1 million euros in cash that the authorities were offering for information.
The Slovak prime minister also aggressively deflected questions about his assistant, Troškova. “You are connecting innocent people with double murder,” Fico told reporters. “That is over the line.”
Despite that show of support from the prime minister, Troškova and Viliam Jasan — a member of Slovakia’s security council tied to both her and Vadala by Kuciak’s reporting — said in a statement that they would step aside until the investigation into the murders was complete. “The linking of our names with this foul crime by some politicians or the media is absolutely over the line,” they wrote. “We categorically reject any connection with this tragedy.”
Also on Wednesday, Slovak Culture Minister Marek Madaric, a veteran member of the prime minister’s Smer party, resigned. “Plainly said, I cannot as culture minister put up with a journalist being murdered during my tenure,” Madaric said at a news conference in Bratislava.