After the verdict of Slovakia’s Special Criminal Court, the mastermind of the murder of the journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová remains unknown. On September 3, the Court acquitted Marian Kočner, charged with ordering the killing of the Aktuality.sk investigative reporter, and Alena Zsuzsová, his associate, accused of contracting the murder.
The third person tried in the case, Tomáš Szabó, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for participating at the murder.
“The verdict is shocking. The acquittal of the accused mastermind and intermediary is evidence of a huge failure of the investigation bodies and the judiciary,” said Pavol Szalai, Head of RSF’s EU/Balkans Desk. “We expected Slovakia to set a positive example in the prosecution and condemnation of the crimes against journalists. Instead, we remain in a situation of impunity.”
Although the Court has admitted that Ján Kuciak was indeed killed because of his work, it has ruled that “not a single direct proof of Marian Kočner’s guilt was presented”. All proofs against the businessman presented by the special prosecutor and collected by the police were indirect. Seeking new evidence will be difficult, since the special police team investigating the murder had already been disbanded, a decision criticised by RSF as premature.
The prosecutor, who requested a 25-year prison term for all three accused, has already filed an appeal, which will be examined by the Slovak Supreme Court.
Two verdicts were previously pronounced in the affair. Miroslav Marček admitted to shooting the couple - assisted by his cousin Tomáš Szabó - and was found guilty last April. His 23-year prison sentence is not in force yet, as the prosecutor appealed, asking for 25 years. Zoltán Andruskó, who has cooperated with the police since his arrest, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in December 2019 to 15 years in prison for passing on the order to Miroslav Marček and Tomáš Szabó.
Both Alena Zsuzsová and Marian Kočner will remain in detention. Last February, the press freedom predator was sentenced to 19 years in prison for forging promissory notes in an attempt to extort 69 million euros from the country’s biggest commercial channel, TV Markíza. He appealed and is now awaiting a new trial.
Out of 180 countries, Slovakia is ranked 33rd in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.