One of Austria’s top investigative journalists and a key reporter on ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks project, Kurt Kuch has been remembered as a fearless, determined and principled journalist after he passed away earlier this month.
Kuch, a reporter for Austrian news outlet NEWS, began his career in early 1995 as an apprentice, covering a deadly pipe bomb attack in the city of Oberwart. Right from the beginning, he demonstrated the characteristics which would define his career – perseverance, an unbelievable work ethic and the determination to reach his goal. Giving up was never an option.
Kuch brought these qualities to ICIJ’s Offshore Leaks team in 2013, and produced one of the more spectacular stories in the series that revealed top Austrian banker Herbert Stepic controlled two secretive offshore companies. The story led to Stepic’s resignation, a dramatic fall for a man previously named Europe’s “Banker of the Year.”
“I am very proud to have known Kurt. His death is a sad day for his family, friends and for journalism,” said ICIJ director Gerard Ryle.
“We worked with more than 100 great investigative reporters from around the world on Offshore Leaks, but Kurt’s work stood out. It had immediate impact and that is the high point for any investigative reporter – that what you do matters.”
Before joining the Offshore Leaks project, Kuch had made a name for himself when he uncovered a World Vision donation scandal which involved Karl Habsburg, grandson of the last Emperor. Threats of lawsuits ranging in the millions did not stop Kuch from continuing his investigation and publishing his revelations in 1998, which resulted in criminal convictions for those Kuch exposed.
Since 2002 he had also been investigating one of Austria’s biggest scandals: the controversial purchase of the Eurofighter jet. In NEWS exclusives Kuch provided important, highly confidential contract details which, over time, led to a parliamentary commission to investigate allegations of dishonest dealings surrounding the fighter jet and related business deals. Kuch was still working on this investigation at the time of his death.
Kuch’s work on other major scandals in Austria, including research into suspicious connections between businesses and politicians, led to court cases against businesspeople and politicians alike and ultimately resulted in jail sentences.
Following his death, political leaders paid tribute to Kuch for his commitment to transparency in Austria.
“Kurt Kuch was a strong personality – fair, critical, with unparalleled commitment. I was touched by his brave fight against his illness. My sympathies go out to his wife, daughter and friends,” said Chancellor and SPÖ leader Werner Faymann.
“Kurt Kuch, one of the greats among Austrian journalists, died too soon. He was persistent, beyond bribery and uncompromising, always guided by fairness and honesty,” said National Council of Austria president Doris Bures.
Kuch was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2014, and approached the news like every other challenge in his life – aggressively, optimistically and fiercely. He went public with his illness and used his popularity to launch the initiative “Don’t Smoke” to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking, particularly passive smoking.
He died on Saturday, January 3.
“In Kurt Kuch Austria has lost an unrelenting personality, one who always trod a clear and straight path,” said Vice-Chancellor and leader of the ÖVP Reinhold Mitterlehner.
“As a journalist he worked to improve the culture of the country to include more transparency. Above all he impressed many people with his fight against cancer and smoking. It was exemplary and will continue to have an impact.”
Outside journalism, Kuch was also known for his love of music, especially rock and pop, and for his enthusiasm as an amateur hobby DJ. He was also an avid fan of the Oberwart Gunners basketball team.
Oliver Schröm, leader of investigative reporting for “stern” and chairman of “netzwerk recherché,” said Kuch’s passing left a void in the lives of those who knew him.
“Kurt, we miss you. As the best and most brilliant investigative journalist, that’s obvious, but above all as a generous friend and human being.”