New Delhi: A Bulgarian journalist who reported recently on alleged fraud involving European Union funds has been murdered in the Danube town of Ruse, authorities said on Sunday.
Prosecutors in the Balkan country said that the body of 30-year-old Viktoria Marinova was found in a park in Ruse on Saturday. They identified her only by her initials.
Local media reported that Marinova had recently been involved in an investigation by a group of Bulgarian journalists into companies involved in EU-funded infrastructure projects administered by local authorities.
“It is about rape and murder,” Interior Minister Mladen Marinov told reporters. He said there was no evidence to suggest the murder was related to Marinova’s work and there was no information that she had been threatened.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told reporters: “I am convinced it is a matter of time before the murder would be revealed. The best criminologists were sent to Ruse, let’s not press them. A large amount of DNA had been obtained.”
Police are expected to disclose more details on Monday.
“Her death was caused by blows to the head and suffocation, and her mobile phone, car keys, glasses and some of her clothing were missing,” Ruse regional prosecutor Georgy Georgiev said.
Marinova, who was a board member of the Ruse-based TV station TVN – one of the most popular TV channels in northeastern Bulgaria – is the third high profile journalist to have been murdered in the European Union in a year and the fourth since the start of 2017. “With great pain and insurmountable grief the TVN’s team is experiencing the loss of our beloved colleague Victoria Marinova and we pray for sympathy to the sorrow of her relatives and colleagues,” TVN said in a short statement.
The Guardian reported that Bivol.bg owner Asen Yordanov had told AFP that his media had received credible information that its journalists were in danger of being assaulted because of the investigation that also appeared on Marinova’s show. “Viktoria’s death, the brutal manner in which she was killed, is an execution. It was meant to serve as an example, something like a warning,” Yordanov added.
Earlier in September 2018, the Bulgarian police detained two journalists investigating allegations of fraud involving European Union funds in Romania and Bulgaria. Attila Biro, editor of the Romanian investigative website Rise Project, and Dimitar Stoyanov, of the Bulgarian site Bivol, were arrested in the Sofia suburb of Pernik on 14 September and held for six hours.
Marinova’s murder comes in a long line of attacks carried out recently against journalists. Last October, Daphne Caruana Galizia, one of Malta’s best-known investigative journalists, was killed when a powerful bomb blew up her car. She had been sued by the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat after she wrote blogs saying his wife was the beneficial owner of a company in Panama. Earlier, in February 2018, Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were shot dead as Kuciak was investigating fraud involving businessmen with Slovak political ties, and suspected mafia links of Italians with businesses in Slovakia. In August 2017, Swedish freelance journalist Kim Wall was reported missing and found murdered in October when she was researching a story on Danish inventor Peter Madsen.
Bulgaria ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the lowest position of any European Union member state and also lower than other countries in the western Balkans, some of which are candidates for EU membership. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also released a report earlier this year, detailing the obstacles to investigative journalism in Bulgaria with the Bulgarian parliament supporting a controversial legal amendment that would force media outlets to reveal the sources of their income adding pressure on media that rely on foreign donations to maintain their editorial independence.
In October 2017, hundreds of Bulgarian journalists protested in downtown Sofia downtown against threats from Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov against the country’s biggest broadcasters. He accused the mainstream media of leading a “massive smear campaign” against him.
(With inputs from Reuters)