Killing of journalist Jan Kuciak: RSF takes note of the conviction of a mastermind and deplores the debacle of the judicial procedure against Marian Kocner

While Marian Kocner’s associate Alena Zsuzsova was found guilty of ordering the assassination of Jan Kuciak, the businessman was acquitted due to lack of evidence. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regrets a debacle of the judicial procedure against the man who had threatened the journalist.

“We take note of the conviction of a mastermind of the killing of Jan Kuciak, but the verdict leaves a bitter taste. Full justice has not been served. We deplore a debacle of the five-year judicial procedure against businessman Marian Kocner. RSF expresses its solidarity with the families of the reporter and of his fiancée. We will continue seeking full justice and full truth for the crime which undermined press freedom in Slovakia and Europe.

Christophe Deloire
Secretary General of RSF

On Friday 19 May, Slovak businessman Marian Kocner was acquitted by the Special Criminal Court of ordering the assassination of journalist Jan Kuciak. The investigative journalist of the online outlet was killed with his fiancée Martina Kusnirova on 21 February 2018 in their home in Velka Maca, Slovakia. They were both 27 years old. 

The court said that “it was not proven” beyond reasonable doubt that Kocner had ordered the assassination of Jan Kuciak. Although before his killing the journalist had been threatened by Kocner due his articles about the businessman’s activities, “a high degree of suspicion is not enough,” the court said, adding that “in case of doubt, the doubt must be interpreted in favor of the defendant.”

Marian Kocner was also acquitted of ordering the murders of three Slovak prosecutors for which he was judged in the same trial. 

The businessman’s associate Alena Zsuzsova was, on the contrary, found guilty of ordering the execution of the reporter five years ago. Convicted also for plotting to assassinate two Slovak prosecutors, Zsuzsova was sentenced to 25 years of prison. Her guilt “was proved beyond reasonable doubt” by both direct and indirect evidence, according to the court. The court awarded damages worth 160 thousand euros to be paid by Zsuzsova to the family of Jan Kuciak. 

During the retrial, new evidence proving Kocner and Zsuzsova’s guilt was presented, especially a more in-depth analysis of their encrypted messaging between the two. Nevertheless, Kocner was acquitted by a majority of two votes over one by the three-judge panel. The decision to convict Zsuzsova was taken unanimously. 

When they heard the verdict, the parents of the journalist and his fiancée left the courtroom. They announced filing appeals. These will be examined by the Supreme Court.

Today’s judicial decision came after a retrial ordered by the Supreme Court when it quashed the 2021 acquittal of Kocner and Zsuzsova. The retrial was merged with a trial over attempts to assassinate three prosecutors. 

The businessman and his associate have both been in prison since their arrest in 2018. Kocner, who had links to the former government party Smer, has since been sentenced to 19 years in prison for an attempt to extort 70 million euros from Slovakia’s biggest commercial media, TV Markiza. Zsuzsova is currently serving a 21-year prison term for organizing the assassination of a Slovak mayor. 

All the other persons charged with the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova - two hitmen and a middleman who cooperated with the justice - have already been definitely sentenced for the crime to long prison terms. 

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the assassination, a new platform for protection of journalists was launched by the Investigative Centre of Jan Kuciak with the financial and technical support of RSF.

Slovakia is ranked 17th out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index established by RSF. 

29/ 180
Score : 76.03
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