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Slovak businessman cleared of orchestrating the murder of investigative journalist

Marian Kocner is accused of ordering the murders of Jan Kuciak and his partner Martina Kusnirova, a crime for which four others have been imprisoned, including Kocner’s associate Alena Zsuzsová.

This is the second time that Zsuzsová and Koczner have stood trial before the Special Criminal Court in Pezinek, near Bratislava. In their first trial, which ended in September 2020, they were unexpectedly acquitted. The verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court, which a year later pointed out a multitude of errors to the judges and ordered a retrial.

The new trial began in February last year. To the accusation of ordering the killing of Ján Kuciak, the court added another one, of preparing three more murders: of prosecutors Marosz Žilinka and Petr Szufliarski, and of lawyer Daniel Lipšić, who since last February has been Slovakia’s special prosecutor, i.e. the head of the Office of Special Prosecution dealing with particularly serious crimes.

However, Kocner was acquitted. An identical judgment was issued by the court in 2020, citing a lack of evidence, but the Supreme Court ordered a retrial. The latest verdict might be appealed once more.

Kocner, 60, has consistently pled not guilty and stated in closing arguments last week, “I am not a saint, but I am not a murderer.”

Kuciak, an investigative journalist, and his fiancée Martina Kusznírova were killed on 21 February 2018. The crime occurred at their home in Veľka Mača, a few dozen kilometers east of Bratislava.

The assassination was carried out by hired hitman Miroslav Marcek, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2020. Two more people were convicted that year. Zsuzsova was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Friday for her role in plotting the murders as well as the attempted deaths of three prosecutors.

Kuciak had examined political-business relationships, including the Italian mafia. According to the evidence given at trial, Kocner verbally intimidated Kuciak, who was investigating his business activities.

The deaths of Kuciak and Kusnirova provoked large protests in the country belonging to the European Union, forcing long-time Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign, and bringing in a new administration in 2020 that campaigned on cleaning up corruption and sleaze. But the new coalition has fallen after years of infighting and Smer now leads the opinion polls ahead of an early election on September 30.

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