May 30, 2018 / 6:10 PM / 3 months ago

Anger at choice of insider as Slovak police chief after journalist's murder

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - A veteran officer became Slovakia’s new police chief on Wednesday, a pick that angered protesters who had called for an outside figure to guarantee an independent investigation of the murder of a journalist who exposed high-level graft.

Journalist Jan Kuciak was found shot dead along with his girlfriend at their home in February. They were both 27.

The murder exacerbated worries about media freedom in ex-communist eastern Europe, and led to protests that forced the departure of previous police chief Tibor Gaspar as well as Prime Minister Robert Fico and interior minister Robert Kalinak.

Milan Lucansky, who will take office as police president on June 1 after being appointed on Wednesday by the interior minister, joined the police in the 1990s. Having served as deputy police chief and head of police inspection in recent years, he worked closely with Kalinak.

Asked at a press conference whether he would focus on alleged corruption cases uncovered by Kuciak, Lucansky listed “terrorism and migration” as his main challenges.

“I will take a complex look at the police force... people care about different things not just these specific cases,” Lucansky said.

Slovakia has not been a major transit or destination country during Europe’s migrant crisis.

With Fico keeping the reins of power as chief of the ruling Smer party, the appointment Lucansky to head the police led civic activists to believe that personnel changes have been more cosmetic than substantial.

New Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini and new interior minister Denisa Sakova were both senior figures in the previous administration.

Organisers of the biggest protests since the 1989 fall of communism, united under the ‘For a Decent Slovakia’ alliance, said the nomination was a missed opportunity for real change.

“Interior Minister Denisa Sakova remains nothing but the right hand of former minister Kalinak, and Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini proves he still has to do as former PM Fico and the former interior minister say,” the opposition alliance said in a statement.

No new public protests have been called for now.

No one has been charged with the murder of Kuciak and his fiancee, which a prosecutor has said was probably a contract killing.

The police also faced criticism last week from Kuciak family’s lawyer who said they may have inadvertently destroyed evidence through negligence at the scene of the murder. [nL5N1SW2WY]

The special prosecutor’s office said “some failures were detected during initial actions at the crime scene”.

Kuciak had, among other things, investigated fraud cases involving businessmen with Slovak political ties. He had also looked into suspected mafia links of Italians with businesses in Slovakia.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Toby Chopra

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