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Seven Italian Suspects In Murder Of Slovak Reporter Released

Slovakia In Crisis After Journalist's Killing
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WATCH: Slovakia In Crisis After Journalist's Killing

Slovak authorities have released all seven people detained in connection with the murder of an investigative reporter, an event that shocked the Central European country.

Police detained the seven Italian suspects on March 1 in a probe of the murder of Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend, who were found shot dead in their home last weekend.

"During the legal timeframe -- 48 hours -- [police] checked and searched for facts needed for an indictment. After the 48 hours passed, the persons were released from detention," police spokeswoman Denisa Baloghova said in a statement released on March 3.

Thousands marched in the capital, Bratislava, and other Slovak cities on March 2, demanding quick action in the case that has shocked the country and shaken the government.

Kuciak had been looking into suspected mafia links among Italian businessmen in eastern Slovakia.

His last, unfinished article was published posthumously by Slovak and international media. One of the men named in Kuciak's report, which probed potential abuse of European Union subsidies and other fraud, had past links to people who subsequently worked for Prime Minister Robert Fico's office.

The murder has prompted demands from Fico's coalition partners for the resignation of senior cabinet members -- including Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, a close ally of Fico.

But Kalinak on March 3 said he had no plans to resign, raising tensions within Slovakia's governing coalition.

A junior party in the coalition, the Most-Hid party of mostly ethnic Hungarians, said after Fico rejected their call to resign that the party's leaders would meet on March 15 to discuss the future of the coalition.

The resignation of Kalinak, who has been linked to corruption scandals in the past, also is being demanded by the opposition.

Meanwhile, Kuciak was laid to rest in his wedding suit on March 3 in the northern Slovak village of Stiavnik, a day after his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, was buried in her wedding gown in the northern town of Gregorovce.

The couple, both aged 27, were due to marry in May.

Leading Kuciak's funeral Mass, Bratislava Archbishop Stanislav Zvolensky told hundreds of mourners in the local Roman Catholic church that "if the murderer thought he was able to silence Jan, he was wrong.

"He achieved the opposite," Zvolensky said. "An attack on a journalist is also an attack on the freedom of our country. We must not allow it."The seven Italian suspects were detained during raids in seven locations in eastern Slovakia.

A makeshift memorial to Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend, Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava
A makeshift memorial to Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend, Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava

Police identified the detainees by their first names and initials and some of these appeared to match names of Italian businesspeople who were the focus of Kuciak's final report.

Police said one of the detainees was Antonino V.

According to the Slovak business registry, Italian businessman Antonino Vadala briefly owned a firm with Maria Troskova, a former model and an aide to Fico.

Troskova and the secretary of the country's Security Council, also mentioned in Kuciak's reporting, resigned on February 28 pending results of the investigation. Both Troskova and the secretary have denied any wrongdoing.

On March 2, Italy's former anti-Mafia prosecutor, Franco Roberti, said Italian prosecutors had warned Slovak authorities about "dangerous" infiltration by the powerful 'Ndrangheta organized-crime syndicate.

Franco Roberti said on Italian radio: "We warned authorities in Bratislava, but unfortunately they didn't heed us" about the 'Ndrangheta syndicate's expansion into Slovakia.

Roberti said the 'Ndrangheta, based in southern Italy, might have killed Kuciak and his fiancee because "there was no other way to silence" him.

Meanwhile, global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on March 2 warned EU leaders against undermining the security of journalists in the wake of Kuciak's murder.

The Slovak investigative reporter's assassination came just months after journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing in Malta after exposing crime and corruption on the Mediterranean island.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa