Lawmakers in the EU Parliament called on Thursday for an independent investigation into the deaths of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée.
German MEP Manfred Weber urged the parliament “to initiate an independent investigation” into what happened and his colleague Sven Giegold suggested sending “ad hoc mission to Slovakia.”
Meanwhile, the EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources told German newspaper Die Welt on Wednesday that Brussels expects a thorough investigation into the allegations that EU funds were funnelled to criminal groups through subsidies.
The allegations came after colleagues of Slovak reporter Jan Kuciak published his last investigation before he and his fiancee were murdered in their home last week.
Kuciak was following leads that hinted EU tax money may have ended up in the hands of one of the world’s richest and most brutal crime syndicates, the ‘Ndrangheta, through agricultural subsidies Brussels gave to Slovakia.
“It is a serious accusation to say that European tax money was not properly handled and that possibly corruption and even the mafia is in the game. We must shed light on that,” EU Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Die Welt.
A top anti-mafia prosecutor from Calabria, Nicola Grattieri, commented to the IRPI on the the ‘Ndrangheta’s economic strategies on Thursday.
“Ndrangheta is moving towards the east where it can control money and power,” Grattieri said. “Mafia groups are buying up land to plant vineyards and other products with the ultimate goal of securing EU subsidies,” he said.
A series of articles published by the OCCRP, IICJ, and IRPI detail Kuciak’s findings which suggest links between top Slovak officials and Italian families with ties to the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria.
The Slovak police arrested three members of the Vadala family early Wednesday morning. They are suspected of having played a part in Kuciak’s murder.
A day before, three officials - including two Kuciak was investigating for alleged ‘Ndrangheta ties - stepped down from their posts in Slovakia’s government.
“I believe it is possible that, in this case, direct or indirect payments were made to agricultural workers or agricultural enterprises from our European budget and that they were misused for criminal goals,” Oettinger said, adding the EU will closely monitor the case.
“If this is turns out to be true, we will of course work together with the national authorities.”
Researching the US$ 122 million agricultural empire of the Vadala and Roda families, Kuciak found a series of shady business practises, including fraud, criminal association charges in Italy, and overstating production levels to procure higher subsidies from the state. Both families originate from Calabria and moved to Slovakia decades ago.
In another article, Die Welt quoted Francesco Forgione, the former head of the Antimafia commission in the Italian parliament, as saying that Italian mafia organizations have recently developed a new appetite for Eastern European countries because of the EU funds distributed there.
But the crime syndicates have been present in that part of Europe before, especially in Romania and Bulgaria.
“We know from investigations and proceedings that mafia organizations were also part of Gazprom and toxic waste scandals in Romania,” says Forgione. “It is a fact that the Camorra clan of Casalesi, for example, had consolidated interests in Romania and the Corleonese were involved in garbage scandals.”
‘Ndrangheta’s conquest of the East was orchestrated by its branch in Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall, Forgione suspects.
Investigators realized this after they wiretapped a phone conversation on November 9,1989, in which a mafia boss issued orders to his underlings.
“The wall has fallen,” police heard him saying. “Go to Berlin right now and buy everything there is to buy in the East.”
Nenad Popovic, a nationalist Serbian minister known for his ties to the Kremlin, took part in a dubious privatization that drove a major electrical transformer manufacturer into bankruptcy. Years later, no charges have been filed.
Prosecutors say an organized crime group tied to Liviu Dragnea, Romania’s most powerful politician, set up a cross-border fraud scheme that deprived the Romanian state of more than €1 million over a two-year period.