September 3, 2019 / 4:26 PM / 17 days ago

Slovak deputy minister quits after allegations of contacts with murder suspect

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s deputy justice minister Monika Jankovska resigned on Tuesday under pressure from the president and the opposition over her alleged contacts with a suspect in the killing of an investigative journalist.

The murder in February 2018 of Jan Kuciak, who uncovered fraud cases involving politically connected businessmen, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova shone a spotlight on corruption in the central European country and sparked mass protests that forced then-Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign.

Five people have been charged with the killings and are awaiting a trial, including high-profile businessman Marian Kocner whose business deals were a subject of Kuciak’s stories.

Four, including Kocner, have denied wrongdoing, while the fifth has confessed to shooting Kuciak.

But any contacts with Kocner, an acquaintance of politicians from various parties, have become toxic in the light of the charges.

Special prosecutors said last month they had been able to extract tens of thousands messages from Kocner’s phone including communications with “representatives of state bodies and the justice system”.

Slovak media published parts of messages Kocner allegedly exchanged with a woman also charged in the killing, in which he called Jankovska, who denies any wrongdoing, his pawn at the ministry.

Police said last month they had seized phones of several officials as part of investigation of corruption and abuse of authority, but did not comment on whether there was any connection with Kocner.

Jankovska confirmed her phone was among those seized but denied ever having any contacts, personal or electronic, with Kocner and called the police action against her “politically motivated”.

“I am resigning because of attacks against my family, I have done nothing wrong,” she said, adding there was no way of knowing whether Kocner’s communication was authentic.

Two deputy general prosecutors have also been forced to resign since January over their contacts with Kocner.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alison Williams

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