RSF concern in run-up to Ján Kuciak murder trial
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes Slovak businessman Marian Kočner’s indictment for the murders of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, but is worried by the fact that the police team in charge of the investigation has been disbanded before Kočner and his fellow defendants go on trial.
One of the targets of Kuciak’s investigative reporting, Kočner was finally indicted in October, 20 months after the double murder in February 2018. He and his three co-accused are facing the possibility of 25-year prison sentences. A fifth person, Zoltán Andruskó, confessed to a role in the murders but, under a plea deal, he will be treated as a prosecution witness during the trial, which is expected to start in a couple of months or so.
According to the indictment, which was leaked to several media outlets, including Aktuality.sk, the website Kuciak worked for, Kočner had Kuciak and other journalists placed under surveillance before finally organizing his murder. The indictment also reveals that recordings made during the surveillance were found in Kočner’s home.
With the help of data provided by telecom operators, the police were able to reconstruct the suspects’ movements in the days following the murder, including the visits they made to Kočner’s safe deposit boxes. They were also able to identify their DNA on the banknotes allegedly used to pay for the murder.
But the revelations don’t stop there. The indictment seems to indicate that the investigators also discovered information about other crimes implicating politicians, judges, prosecutors and police officers – all with links to Kočner of varying degrees of proximity.
RSF therefore questions the decision to disband the special team that was set up to investigate the Kuciak murder. The judicial authorities decided to disband the team as soon as the judicial investigation was completed, and before the start of the trial. Normally no questions would be raised about such a decision, once the suspects had been indicted. But in this case, the investigators had discovered other crimes that could send shockwaves through the political class.
“We welcome the progress achieved in the Ján Kuciak murder investigation, resulting in the indictment of the alleged instigator and his accomplices, but we urge the authorities to be more transparent as the judicial proceedings continue,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.
“Combatting impunity for crimes against journalists in an effective way means ensuring that judicial systems not only convict those responsible for these crimes but also combat all of the corruption that threatens journalists.”
Kuciak’s murder and his last investigative report, published after his death, shocked the entire world and triggered massive demonstrations throughout Slovakia that eventually forced Prime Minister Robert Fico and police chief Tibor Gaspar to resign. The premature disbanding of the Kuciak murder investigation team is now sowing renewed doubt in Slovak public opinion.
RSF also calls on the Slovak police to continue investigating Kočner’s illegal surveillance of 29 Slovak journalists, whose personal details were taken from police databases. The Slovak authorities must also ensure that such leaks never recur.
Slovakia is ranked 35th in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 18 places in the past two years.