Investigative journalists probing fraud and corruption in Malta and Slovakia have been assassinated in recent weeks.
Barely a few months after the assassination of Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, news of another journalistic assassination is breaking from Slovakia. I have commented previously on the Galizia murder, and was not expecting this sinister trait to continue. Sadly, I was wrong.
The Slovakian journalist in question, Jan Kuciak, was only 27-years- old when he was shot dead. Worse still, his girlfriend Martina Kušnírová, was also killed in the ‘hit’. What are the similarities between the Galizia and Kuciak assassinations? Both were investigative journalists probing fraud and corruption.
In Kuciak’s case, police said he was probably targeted because of his work. MEPs on a fact-finding trip to Malta after Galizia’s murder last October, said they were “seriously concerned” about the rule of law on the island and were leaving “even more worried”. Her popular blog attacked high-level political corruption, shady business dealings and organised crime on the island.
Investigating international fraud and cross-border asset recovery in an anti- corruption capacity, I am approached regularly by investigative journalists seeking a professional perspective on something they have unearthed and linked to their story.
I know several of them well and they know they have my respect and admiration for what they do.
These two incidents are chilling in that none of us likely see ourselves as being vulnerable or in danger. Yes, we’ve all been subject to threats from those who we seek to frustrate and strip their ill-gotten gains, but very few fraudsters have the appetite (thankfully) for murder.
What concerns me most about these murders is the suspicion that those who orchestrated the killings (not those who pulled the trigger/pressed the button), are likely to be well connected and thereby out of the grasp of the local police. The investigations are compounded further by the likelihood that those charged with investigating the killings are unlikely to be working with a free reign, given the levels of public corruption permeating through the law enforcement and political hierarchy in both countries.
Corruption is a cancer that needs to be cut from society, eradicated to protect the interests of the many who suffer as a consequence of the illegal actions of the few. Investigative journalists do a fantastic job of dragging those who are corrupt out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
As we all know, those suddenly finding themselves in the glare of the public and international scrutineers don’t take kindly to the exposure. But the investigative scribes continue to bravely stick their heads above the journalistic parapets. Make no mistake about it, outing somebody in the US or the UK has its risks, but some states are so bent out of shape that doing so goes way above and beyond the call of duty.
In both these cases, the murdered journalists were bringing stories to the fore that implicated persons on high. With elevated status comes elevated protection from being implicated in wrongdoing. These journalists knew this to be the case: they would understand that publishing a story that calls into question the actions (or inactions) of the ruling few is likely to make uncomfortable reading for those exposed.
If we add to the mix a hint of organised crime (including mention of the Italian mafia), dovetailing darkly and seamlessly with the powers that be, then any repercussions are likely to be severe. Gangsters do not mess around. If you are a hoodlum and are operating with the protection of government ministers, and you have the police in your pocket, you can murder almost with impunity.
The organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has for several years provided an overview of the perils facing investigative journalists. It maintains a ‘barometer’ of threats/instances adversely affecting those whose profession sees them targeted by those who want to silence them.
The barometer makes for a worrying read. Already in 2018 (we are a little over three months in), there have been four journalists, two citizen journalists, and one media assistant, killed. At the time of writing there are 182 journalists imprisoned, with 123 citizen journalists imprisoned and 15 media assistants in jail. When one considers the states where these murders have taken place this year, the roll of dishonour is unsurprising: we see deaths in Brazil, Mexico, Slovakia and Yemen.
Although Slovakia has seen living standards soaring since it joined the European Union in 2004, there have been repeated protests by citizens seeking to draw attention to cronyism and corruption among the political elite. Indeed, this continued and determined protestation by the Slovakian people has seen their Prime Minister, Robert Fico, resign a matter of days ago due to the pressure being brought to bear.
Prevailing circumstances like those in Malta and Slovakia makes the EU’s constant attacks on states outside of the EU, such as the UK territories’ offshore services industry, that much more hypocritical. Instead of putting its own house in order, it meddles and threatens those weaker than itself, rather than facing up to the facts nearer to home.
Martin Kenney is Managing Partner of Martin Kenney & Co., Solicitors, a specialist investigative and asset recovery practice based in the BVI and focused on multi-jurisdictional fraud and grand corruption cases www.martinkenney.com|@MKSolicitors. He was selected as one of the Top 40 Thought Leaders of the Legal Profession in 2017 by Who’s Who Legal International and as the number one offshore lawyer for asset recovery