Il 21 febbraio del 2018 furono uccisi a Veľká Mača in Slovacchia il giornalista Ján Kuciak e la fidanzata Martina Kušnírová.
Negli scorsi mesi sono stati condannati il killer, un ex militare e reo confesso, e altri suoi due complici. Impugnata invece l’assoluzione dei presunti mandanti, tra cui l’imprenditore Marian Kocner.
Ci uniamo alla comunità internazionale e alle organizzazioni dei giornalisti nel chiedere verità e giustizia per un delitto che ha fatto tremare i palazzi della politica slovacca. Pubblichiamo l’ultimo articolo di Jan che documenta i legami inconfessabili del potere con il crimine organizzato che l’attività del coraggioso giornalista stava mettendo in evidenza.
The final, unfinished article by the Slovak journalist murdered with his partner last week.
Below we publish a draft of the investigative article that Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak was working on before he and his partner Martina Kušnírová were killed last week.
Kuciak was working with his publication, Aktuality.sk, together with the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, the Investigative Reporting Project Italy and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, to map how people close to the Italian organized crime group ‘Ndrangheta have settled in Slovakia. Aktuality.sk and POLITICO Europe are co-owned by Germany’s Axel Springer.
Fourteen years ago, an Italian named Carmine Cinnante arrived in the town of Michalovce. One morning he started in his Fiat from a village of Novosad, about 40 kilometers from Michalovce, where he was staying with his girlfriend Lýdia.
Cinnante was heading for Italy. He was joined by a Slovakian man called Ján whom he had promised to find work there. In the Michalovce district every fourth person of working age was unemployed at that time.
When the pair was traveling on a country road, approaching the main road between the villages of Porostov and Ostrov in the Sobrance district, they noticed a police patrol. Their white Fiat Punto with Italian registration plates began to reverse suddenly.
The policeman became suspicious of the men’s behavior, they stopped the car and checked it. On the back seat, they found a black wooden briefcase with a gun, 50 bullets and a magazine.
It was a functional Czechoslovak machine gun model 26 with a laser pointer but with a destroyed production number.
According to experts, the briefcase was made especially for storing the machine gun. Cinnante was accused of criminal possession of a weapon, and the judge of the district court in Michalovce sentenced him to two years on probation.
At that time, the prosecutor described the Italian as an “entrepreneur with business in Slovakia in the field of agriculture.”
Tentacles reach out to Government Office
A few months later, the Italian police came to arrest Cinnante. The reason was smuggling of weapons to Italy for the Mafia boss Guirin Iona.
Iona was the head of Belvedere Spinello, one of the clans of the economically strongest Italian mafia of the present time — ‘Ndrangheta.
As the documents from the investigation show, Carmine Cinnante is also one of its members. A man whom Slovak authorities have only known as an entrepreneur in agriculture.
However, Cinnante is not the only Italian with links to the mafia who found his second home in Slovakia.
They started doing business, receiving subsidies, drawing EU funds and especially building relationships with influential people in politics — as high as the Government Office of the Slovak Republic.
At the same time, in their homeland of Italy they had also many problems with the law.
With the confidence of the mafia
The business interests of mafioso Carmine Cinnante and Antonino Vadala came together in a farm co-op between the villages of Dvorianka and Parchovany in the district of Trebišov. Vadala also had problems with the police at home in Italy.
On Monday February 3, 2003 the court in Reggio Calabria in southern Italy ruled on nine defendants in a case involving another Mafia clan — Libri. The Libri clan is one of the most powerful within the ‘Ndrangheta.
Among the accused were Antonino Vadala, originally from the village of Bova Marina in the south of Calabria.
According to Italian investigators it was Vadala who, at the request of the clan, helped hide mafioso Domenic Ventura — convicted of the brutal murder of a member of competing gang — and helped him escape.
Italian policemen captured telephone conversations between Antonino Vadala and Francesco Zindato, the boss of the clan, in which the men argued about the details of the action. In 2003, however, Vadala was released for lack of evidence.
In another case, a court ruling describes a situation in which Antonino Vadala and two other men traveled to Rome to physically “punish” an unknown person who “caused damage to the clan”.
“He entrusted the task to the people whom [the boss of the clan Francesco Zindato] most trusted, among them to Antonino Vadala,” the judge explained.
When Vadala faced charges in Italy, he did not go to court to hear the verdict. He found a refuge and new home in Eastern Slovakia.
Vadala started a successful business in agriculture, then in real estate and in energy. He has become one of the most distinguished figures of the Italian community in Slovakia.
Entrepreneur in energy business
In 2009, information came out that an unknown Italian businessman Antonino Vadala planned to build two factories in Lučenec industrial park for almost €70 million.
Although the project was cancelled eventually, Vadala became an “energy entrepreneur.” That’s what the former minister of economy, Pavol Rusko, who is now accused of ordering a murder, called him.
Paradoxically, he remembered Vadala through the chief state counselor Mária Trošková, who works closely with Prime Minister Robert Fico.
“She used to work for us for about three months. It’s been a long time, about four years ago. But then, she met one entrepreneur of Italian roots, who, among other things was involved in solar power plants and went to work for him,” Rusko said in an interview published in 2016.
The fact that her career continued with Fico at the Government Office did not surprise him very much: “Well, I thought it wouldn’t be so quick, but basically it did not surprise me, because she understood very quickly how to do things in life.”
Trošková and Jasaň
In August 2011, Vadala and Mária Trošková founded GIA MANAGEMENT. Trošková left the company after a year and later became assistant to member of parliament Viliam Jasaň.
Jasaň did not want to tell the media where he found this woman known as a model who also competed in the Miss Universe 2007 final. He said only that a friend recommended her to him.
“An assistant I used to have left me and a friend recommended this woman to me,” Jasaň told Nový Čas daily. Whether the friend in question was Antonino Vadala he refused to confirm.
However, in less than a year — in March 2015 — Maria Trošková left Jasaň’s office and started to work for none other than Prime Minister Fico at the Government Office. A year later, Jasaň joined her there as well. The prime minister named him director of the office and secretary of the State Security Council.
In addition, Jasaň also received a top-level security clearance. As a council secretary he reports directly to Fico.
Jasaň attends the Security Council meetings, elaborates summary statements for Fico and is responsible for documenting the council’s activities.
He therefore has access to all documents and information of the council, whose task is to ensure the functionality of the country’s security system and, at the time of war, assumes the power of government.
However, Jasaň has proven to have ties to a man who has worked directly with the Italian mafia.
The relationship between Jasaň and Vadala can be demonstrated especially in business activities. The politician of the ruling SMER-SD party used to own a private security company, Prodest.
Vadala and his colleagues have recently taken over this company. Besides that, Jasaň’s son Slavomír still has a joint venture with the Italians called AVJ Real.
In addition to that, when one of Vadala’s companies went bankrupt recently, it was revealed that Vadala claimed he was owed money by a private security service in which Jasaň and his son Slavomír were involved in the past.
This means that two people close to the man who came to Slovakia as a person accused of being involved with the Mafia in Italy have daily access to the Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico, who chose them personally.
Vadala votes SMER
In addition to Jasaň and Trošková, other ties to politics, and the SMER-SD party particularly, can be traced around Antonino Vadala.
For example, Vadala’s longtime accountant Monika Čorejová ran for the regional parliament in the past.
Vadala himself massively supports SMER-SD, mainly campaigning on social networks. He praises Fico in front of his Italian friends, defends minister Kaliňák from opposition criticism and vehemently supports Richard Raši from SMER-SD in his campaign for president of the Košice Self-governing Region.
On election day, March 5, 2016, Vadala was trumpeting that “today we are all voting No. 16 SMER and we can be sure tomorrow Slovakia is in good hands.”
During the campaign he was openly declaring that he plans to visit the SMER conference in Košice. He wrote to Raši publicly saying they would “see each other” there. He called SMER “our party.”
When the current government coalition was created, it was a reason for Vadala to celebrate.
Bullets and funeral bouquet
Vadala and his Italian friends had problems with the law in Slovakia as well. In spite of a number of criminal proceedings, however, they are still successfully avoiding justice.
Here are just a few examples of cases involving suspected extortion and tax fraud.
Aktuality.sk together with their partners reconstructed the cases from police and judicial documents, which were obtained according to the Act of Free Access to Information.
Case No. 1 took place in the east of Slovakia in 2013. One autumn morning, employees of a company in the town of Trebišov found a strange delivery at the entrance gate.
There was a bag hanging on the fence containing matches, 10 functional bullets and a funeral bouquet. It was wrapped in a piece of paper with “Jerad“ written on it. It was a misspelled version of their boss Gerhard’s name.
It was supposed to be a warning from a competitor that followed death threats. The mock name Jerad was often used by an Italian who claimed from the company nearly 40 hectares of arable land.
Jerad ignored the warning at first. He reported it to the police when his employee, a tractor driver, was threatened as well.
After two years of investigation, Antonino’s relative Sebastiano Vadala finally faced prosecution by the Trebišov district court for the crime of extortion.
According to the prosecutor Peter Prokopovič, Sebastiano Vadala threatened to shoot dead the company’s manager and mimicked with his hands the act of cutting the man’s throat.
He threatened the tractor driver by saying “he will shoot dead with his gun anyone who will work on his field and set the tractor on fire.”
That’s all because the company farmed on a field that the Italians wanted for their business. It never interested the authorities who were the legal owners of the land.
In addition to testimony, the company also submitted the aforementioned special delivery for Jerad. Expertise has proven that all 10 bullets were fit for shooting and could only be in possession of a licensed arms holder.
A video from the company’s security camera was alleged to show Vadala’s visit, during which he verbally threatened Gerhard. Vadala denied the accusations.
He and his lawyer Marek Švingál claimed at the court that at the time of the alleged threats he had not been in Trebišov, but in Michalovce. This was confirmed by Švingál, Vadala’s accountant, and another Italian.
The District Court in Trebišov and later also the Regional Court in Košice found the evidence against Sebastiano Vadala was insufficient. Last year, he was cleared of all the charges.
Milan Petričko, District Court judge at Trebišov, wrote that “it has not been proved that the act for which the accused has been prosecuted actually happened.”
According to the judge, the prosecution was based solely on testimonies of the witnesses, which is allegedly not enough for convicting Vadala.
Neither the bag and the funeral bouquet nor the video footage is mentioned in the court’s ruling. The prosecutor appealed against the court’s decision.
The prosecutor argued that the judge “wrongly assessed the evidential situation and the clear evidence of crime was being neglected, and his decision was based on biased and unilateral subjective conclusions.”
The representative of the company’s CEO, who had been the victim of extortion, objected that the court considered Marek Švingál’s testimony, even though he was acting as the defendant’s lawyer in the preparatory proceedings. That means he knew from the criminal proceedings about the evidence gathered by the police.
Even Švingál’s interrogation was allegedly conducted in a way that was against the law.
Vadala told the investigator that he did not speak nor understand the Slovak language and therefore he could not threaten the victim. But this was denied by several witnesses.
In addition, Sebastiano Vadala in another case two years later described himself in court “as a citizen of the Italian Republic who lives in the Slovak Republic for a long time understands the Slovak language.”
The Senate of the Regional Court in Košice, led by Marek Dudík, however, dismissed the appeal and confirmed that Vadala was to be cleared of all charges.
Italian version of Bašternák
In the second case, which concerned tax fraud, Antonino Vadala was directly involved. The case involved alleged speculative transactions in connection with three apartments in Bratislava city district of Petržalka.
The whole case started in 2011 and ended only last year. The original owner of the three flats was Italian Antonio Palombi, more precisely his company ALTO.
In 2011, however, the apartments’ ownership started to change — in the course of several months they were first transferred to the company GENNA and then to another company, AV-REAL. Vadala used to work for the first one, while the other was being managed by him even at the time of transfers.
Three years after this deal, Palombi turned to the police saying that Vadala had not paid him a purchase price for his flats.
According to the police file we obtained on the basis of the Act of Free Access to Information, Palombi first claimed that Vadala had deceived him.
This was how the weekly Plus 7 dní reported the case in 2015. But the reality was a bit different.
In fact, Palombi and Vadala agreed that the transfer of apartments would take place without actual payments, and that the apartments would eventually end up in the company KANNONE, which was owned by the two of them.
The purpose of the deals was that Vadala’s AV-REAL, which was the third company in the chain, would be entitled to tax exemption with the right to deduct VAT in the amount of approximately €80,000.
Palombi admitted this to the police himself as a witness and victim at the same time.
“He said Antonino Vadala advised him to transfer the apartments to AV – REAL via GENNA Ltd. because this company was engaged in the real estate business and ALTO, s.r.o. was not a VAT payer. GENNA then was supposed to transfer the apartments for a much higher price. In this way, as AV-REAL is a VAT payer, the difference would be deducted at purchase,” noted Palombi’s interrogator.
Palombi repeated several times that the price of €360,000 was just imaginary. In fact, the apartments were meant to be returned to him.
“The suspect said that if he gets 80,000 Euros of VAT, he will transfer those apartments to their joint company KANNONE, s.r.o. By doing so, they would go back to the company owned by the complainant.”
In his complaint, Palombi wrote that he should also receive a share of the VAT return.
“The suspect told him that the flats would be sold to company GENNA. He explained that GENNA will claim a deduction of VAT, half of which is given to the notifier,” the police file says.
Vadala denied everything to the investigator — he did not know about any deal, and he allegedly bought the flats in a regular way.
The criminal prosecution was stopped, the prosecutor declared that there was no fraud committed on Palombi, although both could have cooperated on the fraud.
He stressed that if a crime was committed, it is a VAT refund scam and that the case is being treated as a crime of non-payment of tax and insurance.
He literally wrote: “The real intention of individual persons involved in gradual transfers makes it impossible to objectively determine their possible willful or non-willful co-operation towards the alleged evasion of the tax advantage when it is possible to expect from them to give purposeful testimonies to defend themselves from suspicion from other criminal activity.”
Palombi initially demanded return of the apartments in court — in a commercial dispute that was under way since December 2014. However, as it emerges from court rulings, he decided not to pursue his claim in February last year.
The District Court Bratislava V stopped the proceedings in March. It did not mention why Palombi changed his mind after two years.
He turned to the state authorities after some years — when it turned out that Vadala would not even give him money from VAT refunds, nor did he return the flats.
In this case, the investigation has not yet led to the prosecution of Antonino Vadala. Two companies in its portfolio have just recently gone bankrupt with tax debts of over €100,000.
Big Italian family
Antonino Vadala and Carmine Cinnante do not act individually in Slovakia.
In the eastern part of the country — after mutual coordination and cooperation — four representatives from the Italian Calabria family, birthplace of ‘Ndrangheta, operate.
Apart from the Vadalas and the Cinnantes, there are also the Roda and the Catroppa families. Agriculture became their main business in Slovakia.
They owned or still own dozens of companies. Their estate ranges into tens of millions of euros.
They manage hundreds to thousands of hectares of land, for which they receive millions in subsidies.
Just between 2015 and 2016, the companies around these families managed to get more than €8 million in direct payments from the Agricultural Payments Agency (PPA). And hundreds of thousand of euros more from project subsidies.
The eligibility of these payments is also questionable. Aktuality.sk together with partners documented several cases of violations of the rules.
In one case, a company asked for payments for up to eight times the area they actually worked on. In another case, they again asked for payments on areas for which they did not pay rent and which they did not have the right to use.
In addition, the representative of one of these Italian companies falsified the decision of the PPA to persuade a bank that it would soon receive the money.
More public money was collected under the influence of the Italians for biogas power plants. Three companies of the Diego Roda family, for example, received €8.3 million of these payments from 2012 to 2017.
The Office for Network Regulators (URSO) fined them in 2015, because in mandatory reporting they overestimated the amount of energy their biogas power plant produced.
The subsidy amount depends on the amount of energy produced.
Where the money comes from
Money laundering is the biggest business of ‘Ndrangheta abroad. The goal is to clean money and do business in a way that it looks legitimate.
This may involve the use of third parties as fictitious owners of companies, foreign trade in goods that are artificially overpriced, or putting pressure on competitors.
The Libri clan, with whom Vadala has collaborated, is one of the most influential in the district of Reggio Calabria, and has a substantial part of its activities outside of Italy.
The forms of their business are many, because this clan is particularly engaged in a financial international business.
Nevertheless, there is no evidence that any of the aforementioned subjects in Slovakia has been laundering money. However, there are doubts about the origin of the money used by the Italian families mentioned here.
From the documents we have collected, it is clear that a substantial part of the money came from their native Italy.
For example, Antonino Vadala appears in several rulings of Slovakian courts, which show that he has received money from people from Italy. They stated that money was given to Vadala in cash because he wanted it that way.
For example, the money should be used to buy an agricultural co-op in Slovakia. Since the people who gave the money had no benefits from the trade, they were claiming their money back from Vadala.
Vadala claimed in court that he owed nothing to the Italians, and that a statement in which he claimed the opposite was signed under coercion.
The companies of the Roda brothers established in Slovakia in the 90s, received a substantial share of the equity capital from the companies with the same names in their home town of Condofuri in Italy.
These are the companies CO.BE.R. (Diego Roda) and TRA.CE.R. (Antonio Roda), which have their sister companies of the same name in Italy.
In their annual reports from the turn of millennium, the Slovak companies report commitments and financial assistance to the companies in Italy, as well as that their entire production is going back to their home country.
CO.BE.R even states in the financial statements that it was created as a foreign investment with a 100 percent capital stake in Italy.
In Italy Pietro Roda, brother of Antonio and Diego, acts as a representative of the family company TRA.CE.R. He is also involved in money laundering for a ‘Ndrangheta section called El Dorado.
The police arrested him in 2013 during an operation against the Mafia clan Gallicianò.
He faced allegations of belonging to the Mafia association (a specific offense under Italian law) and money laundering. In 2014, however, the Supreme Court cleared him for lack of evidence.
In 2017, the names of Antonino Vadala’s family members appeared in an arrest warrant for 18 gang members who were supposed to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into Europe for ‘Ndrangheta.
The Vadalas are only mentioned in the arrest warrant. Details of the case are not yet known.
Note: The conclusion of the article is missing as the author was not able to finish it.
3 years have passed since the murder of the investigative journalist Ján Kuciak & his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Free and independent media are essential for democracy — and so is justice that must prevail. We shall never forget. pic.twitter.com/yoFUDiZFap
— Zuzana Čaputová (@ZuzanaCaputova) February 21, 2021
The only way to serve justice & honour the memory of #JanKuciak & Martina Kušnírová murdered 3 yrs ago on 21/02 would be to finally #endimpunity for crimes against journalists & ensure that they can work freely & safely in #Slovakia & across Europe #protectjournalists #AllforJan pic.twitter.com/e5drZdGOdk
— Commissioner for Human Rights (@CommissionerHR) February 19, 2021
#Slovakia: Today marks 3 years since investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová were murdered.
Those who ordered this assassination still have not been brought to justice.
— ARTICLE 19 ECA (@article19europe) February 21, 2021
Marian Kočner, the Slovak businessman accused of ordering the murder of young investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee, had the country’s justice system in the palm of his hand.
Our latest investigation: https://t.co/kM0Kg9pbn7
— Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (@OCCRP) February 22, 2021
#Slovakia: @RSF_inter hails a step towards ending impunity 3 years after #JanKuciak's murder, as new evidence against Marian Kočner & Alena Zsuzsová has just been revealed. In 2021, the Supreme Court will hold an appeal hearing after the alleged masterminds' acquittal last year. pic.twitter.com/Tx4A1yktlr
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) February 19, 2021
Tre anni dal brutale omicidio del giornalista #JánKuciak e di Martina Kušnírová. Condannati il killer e altri due complici. Impugnata l'assoluzione dei presunti mandanti. L'ultimo articolo di #Kuciak denuncia il #Sistema e la #mafia in #Slovakia #allforjan https://t.co/Eydn5t9vDZ pic.twitter.com/vPJto9FH7D
— Lorenzo Frigerio (@lorenz_frigerio) February 21, 2021
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