PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovak Culture Minister Marek Madaric, a long-time senior member of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, resigned on Wednesday following the murder of an investigative reporter that has shocked the country.
Separately, two Slovak officials named in the last report of journalist Jan Kuciak, who specialized in exposing fraud and cronyism, said in a statement that they had resigned pending the outcome of the investigation into his murder.
The two - national security council secretary Viliam Jasan and Maria Troskova, an aide to Prime Minister Robert Fico - denied having anything to do with the killing.
Kuciak’s last report alleged that the two had links with an Italian businessman before they entered government. His report did not suggest any wrongdoing by either of them.
Their announced resignation followed calls from Justice Minister Lucia Zitnanska and opposition leaders for their dismissal.
Kuciak, 27, reported on suspected crimes by businessmen, some of whom had connections with Slovak politicians. He and his girlfriend were found shot dead at the weekend, and police said the killings were likely over his work.
Madaric, the culture minister, told a televised news conference in the capital Bratislava: “Plainly said, I cannot as culture minister put up with a journalist being murdered during my tenure.”
Kuciak’s killing was the first of a journalist in Slovakia and the fifth such case concerning a reporter or reporters in the European Union in the past decade, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Last October, Maltese anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb.
His final report looked into alleged connections between Italian businessmen in eastern Slovakia and Italian mafia groups, and into alleged abuses of EU subsidies.
The report was a collaborative effort with the international Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism and the Investigative Reporting Project Italy.
Kuciak’s murder angered a nation where media revelations of links between businessmen and politicians have long sparked outrage.
Opposition parties held a protest rally over Kuciak’s killing in Bratislava on Wednesday afternoon, and another protest was scheduled in several cities for Friday.
Top Slovak politicians have also had run-ins with the media. In 2016 Fico called journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” when asked about allegations of public procurement rules being broken during Slovakia’s then-EU presidency.
Fico, who has been in power for 10 of the last 12 years, has pledged to fight corruption and cronyism though himself has been criticized for renting an apartment from a property developer who is under investigation for suspected tax fraud.
Last year, thousands protested in Bratislava seeking the resignation of Interior Minister Robert Kalinak over business dealings with the developer. Both have denied wrongdoing.
Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet; Editing by Robin Pomeroy