The Police Force in Slovakia launched a murder probe on Monday after a leading journalist who investigated high-profile tax fraud was shot dead along with his fiancée.
The body of the 27-year-old Jan Kuciak, a reporter the aktuality.sk news portal owned by Germany’s Axel Springer and Ringier was discovered alongside that of Martina Kusnirova at their home in Velka Maca, 65 km (40 miles) from the Slovak capital Bratislava.
Police commander Tibor Gaspar told reporters Kuciak died of a gunshot wound to the chest while his partner was shot in the head.
He said the motive was “most likely related to the investigative work of the journalist.”
Leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico said his government was offering €1 million ($1.2 million) for any information leading to the capture of those responsible.
“If the death of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak proves to be linked to his journalism, it would be an unprecedented attack on freedom of the press and democracy in Slovakia,” Fico said.
Police discovered the bodies on Sunday after family members failed to reach the pair for several days.
Police reportedly found ammunition arranged around the bodies with the Pravda daily describing the scene as a “warning.
Tom Nicholson, a Bratislava-based journalist, told media that Kuciak had been working on a story about an Italian mafia scam based in eastern Slovakia defrauding EU structural funds.
The murder was condemned by European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani and the OSCE.
“The EU cannot accept that a journalist is killed for doing his job. I call on the Slovak authorities to launch a thorough investigation with international support if needed for Jan Kuciak,” he wrote on Twitter.
“We cannot accept a new reality in which journalists become regular targets for attack because of their investigative work,” Harlem Desir, OSCE representative on freedom of the media, said in a statement urging a swift investigation.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned the attack, saying Kuciak and his family had recently been threatened, and noting that he was the fifth journalist to be killed in the EU over the past decade.
“We demand an investigation to shed light on the exact circumstances of this case, especially since Jan Kuciak and his relatives received threats in recent months,” said a statement from Pauline Ades-Mevel who heads RSF’s EU-Balkans office.
Slovakia is ranked 17th in the 2017 RSF World Ranking for press freedom, dropping five places compared to the previous year.
Kuciak’s reporting focused mainly on allegations of tax evasion and fraud concerning high-ranking officials and tycoons.
The last story he wrote was about businessman Marian Kocner, known for real estate deals.
Last year, the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) dropped an investigation into alleged tax fraud by Kocner, who had supposedly applied for tax refunds totaling €8.19 million ($10 million).
Known for insulting and threatening journalists, Kocner said last year that he would set up a website publishing information on the private lives of journalists, according to the leading SME daily.