March 6, 2018 / 5:05 PM / 9 months ago

Slovak police interview more than 100 in probe of journalist's murder

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak police have interviewed more than 100 people as part of the investigation into the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, Interior Minister Robert Kalinak said on Tuesday.

The killing of investigative reporter Kuciak, 27, and his fiancee, who were found shot dead at their home on Feb. 25, is the country’s largest police investigation in its modern history. The case has rocked the nation and its government.

Police have said Kuciak’s death was probably connected to his reporting.

Last week, they detained - then later released - seven men whose first names and last initials matched those of subjects Kuciak had written about in his final report. The story, published posthumously, investigated suspected mafia links to Italian businessmen in eastern Slovakia.

The police have not given any further details on its investigation and said in a Tuesday statement they could not provide any more information on prosecutor’s orders.

Kalinak, who is facing calls to quit or be sacked, briefed a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

“The biggest-ever team of investigators is working on the murder of Kuciak and his fiancee. More than 100 witnesses have been interviewed already,” he said.

Kalinak has faced previous calls to quit. Last year, thousands protested to demand his resignation over ties he had with a developer investigated for tax fraud. Both had denied wrongdoing then.

Prime Minister Robert Fico has again resisted calls to fire his party ally Kalinak, who said on Tuesday his priority was the investigation.

“I don’t feel directly responsible for the murder of a journalist (...) but I’m having hard time getting over it,” he told reporters. “We will first talk to our coalition partners.”

President Andrej Kiska called on Sunday for substantial changes to the government or early elections to rebuild public trust following the killing.

One of the subjects, Antonino Vadala, in Kuciak’s last article had past links to two people who subsequently went on to work in Fico’s office. Both have resigned and denied any connection to the killing.

In an interview with Slovak newspaper Korzar published on Tuesday, Vadala denied links to the Italian mafia or Slovak politicians. He said Kuciak mistook him for someone else with the same name but he was killed before Vadala could meet with him and explain.

“Everything that has been written about us, concerns a different Vadala family, not us,” Vadala was quoted as saying.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, editing by Jason Hovet, Larry King

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