Journalists in more than a dozen different European countries have been victims of surveillance over the past decade, but many suspect that the phenomenon continues. Investigative journalists in Poland revealed that a recently elected MP had ties with a business linked to organized crime; while in Romania, a far-right party shares the same pro-Russian narratives for political gain as the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. In the Czech Republic, a religious group from Denmark is under scrutiny amid concerns over child abuse.
This collaborative report is based on research from seven investigative outlets, which constitute The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project: Investigace.cz (Czech Republic), Bird.bg (Bulgaria), Frontstory.pl (Poland), Rise Project (Romania), Investigative Center of Ján Kuciak – icjk.sk (Slovakia), Átlátszó (Hungary), Context Investigative Reporting Project (Romania).
Journalists from these platforms collaborate for each edition of this publication to showcase their most significant investigations into organized crime and corruption in our region.
Far-right parties in Romania and Hungary exploit old conflicts for political gain
The rhetorical antagonism between Romania’s far-right AUR party and Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by populistPM Viktor Orban, is playing out as a reiteration of the historical conflicts between the two nations, most notably rooted in Transylvania which was once a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
This dynamic has been highlighted by Rise Project Romania’s investigation, which illustrates how both parties employ similar narratives of promoting nationalist sentiments to gain voters that naturally oppose the EU’s interests and, instead, better align with the Kremlin’s geopolitical agenda. These messages are fueling ethnic tensions that threaten to undermine the EU’s support for Ukraine as the war drags on.
AUR and Fidesz strategically capitalize on old narratives dating back to 1990 when interethnic violence flared up in Targu Mures, where today a large ethnic Hungarian population remains. Both parties exploit and propagate the historical conflicts against perceived “foreign” influences across traditional and social media. Read the whole investigation here.
Surveillance states: spying on journalists goes unchecked
Tapped phones, bugged apartments, watchers on the street, spyware on mobile phones. Átlátszó participated in the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network’s (BIRN) project in which they interviewed journalists from 15 countries, all of whom have been surveilled by intelligence services, criminal groups, or private companies over the past few decades.
The interviews explain how surveillance has affected journalists’ work and private lives from the communist era to the present day, and how attempts to seek justice for being illegally surveilled often fail. The interviews also reveal how spying on media professionals remains a significant issue in Central and South Eastern Europe.
Ukrainian refugees return home from Romania due to lack of financial help
Investigative journalists from Context found that Romania has blocked the distribution of EU funds that the European Union had said could be redirected from other bloc-funded projects to help Ukrainian refugees.
The move left many Ukrainians who fled the war without any income, and forced them to return to their war-torn home country.
In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, the European Commission told Bucharest it could redirect funds it had received for other EU projects to help refugees. Some of that money, for example, was earmarked as financial relief to alleviate the fiscal consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. But instead of using the money to help the refugees, Romanian authorities purchased COVID-19 supplies in 2023, despite the virus being well under control by now. Read the full story here.
Far-Right Polish politician connected to businessman with shady past
A business conference held by one of the leaders of Poland’s nationalist Confederation party, Sławomir Mentzen, who became a member of parliament after the country’s election, was sponsored by Kuchnia Vikinga (Viking’s Kitchen). The deputy head of this company has been accused of involvement in organized crime.
The Polish prosecutor’s office has accused the gang of being engaged in pimping, kidnapping, and other crimes. Following the publication of the story, cooperation with Kuchnia Vikinga “pending clarification of doubts” was suspended by the Wisła Kraków football club, of which the Białystok-based brand was a sponsor.
Ending the cooperation with Kuchnia Vikinga was also announced on social media by Krzysztof Stanowski, popular Polish YouTuber and co-owner of a sports channel, in which the company advertised.
Are Danish children being abused in the Czech Republic?
Police in the Czech Republic closed a case investigating a controversial Danish religious movement called Faderhuset, or Father’s House, who fled Denmark nearly seven years ago after being accused by the authorities of abusing minors.
While both Czech police and social services concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, the Office for International Legal Protection of Children disagreed with the decision.
The Office was the first one to raise the issue with the Czech authorities and to express concern for the young members of the community, based on information from Danish authorities. This information included interviews with a former member of the religious movement, who described violence both towards the children and the adult members of the community.
The leaders of Faderhuset – the Kristiansen family – own several properties in the Czech Republic.
The Czech Republic is one of the last European countries where physical punishment of children is not outlawed. Read the whole story by Investigace here.
Murder of Ján and Martina: One judge was in favour of Kočner’s conviction
On Wednesday, February 21, 2018, Miroslav Marček entered the house of Aktuality.sk investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and shot him. He also took the life of Kuciak’s fiancée, Martina Kušnírová. Marček, his driver Tomáš Szabó, and Zoltán Andruskó who facilitated the murder, are already serving long sentences.
However, Marian Kočner and Alena Zsuzsová, accused of ordering the murders, were acquitted in the first trial. In May 2023, after the retrial ordered by Slovakia’s Supreme Court, Alena Zsuzsová was found guilty but Marian Kočner – a shady businessman who held a shocking influence over the judiciary in Slovakia in the past – was acquitted again. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court which will probably decide on the case in 2024.
However, the judges’ opinion that the murder was completely masterminded from the beginning to the end by Alena Zsuzsová, without Marian Kočner’s knowledge, was not shared by everyone. The trial is conducted in front of three professional judges. Two of them – Ružena Sabová and Rastislav Stieranka – agreed on Kočner not knowing about the murders, but the third one – Jozef Pikna – wrote a dissenting opinion which, seems much more in line with the evidence, ICJK’s analysis concludes.
Pikna agrees with his co-judges that Alena Zsuzsová is guilty, but he also writes that “the evidence adduced at the main hearing forms a logical and undistorted system of complementary evidence which, taken as a whole, excludes the possibility of any other conclusion than that defendant Marian Kočner committed the offense…”. According to him, the evidence “proves beyond reasonable doubt that the order for the murder did not begin with Alena Zsuzsova, but with Marian Kočner.”
Cover illustration: archy13 / Shutterstock
Polish investigative outlet created by Reporters' Foundation.