4 in court to face charges over Slovak journalist’s killing




A Slovak businessman and three others appeared in court for the first time on Thursday to face charges over the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée, a case that triggered mass protests against corruption.

Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, both 27, were gunned down in their house outside the capital Bratislava in 2018.

As she arrived in court, Zlatica Kusnirova’s mother demanded that Kuciak’s unfinished investigations be resolved.

Prosecutors say entrepreneur Marian Kocner, a subject of Kuciak’s reporting on fraud cases involving politically-connected businessmen, had contracted his killing.

The murders stoked public anger over perceived corruption in Slovakia, forcing Prime Minister Robert to resign.

His Smer party will face a tight election on Feb. 29.

The case is a test of Slovak police and judicial independence given that the investigation exposed business and personal links between Kocner, the police, and public officials.

“We will be satisfied only when all the cases Kuciak wrote about are solved.

“Then their deaths will make at least some sense.

“It’s not enough to convict the murderers,” Kusnirova’s mother told newsmen as she entered the Special Criminal Court in Pezinok near the capital Bratislava.

At Thursday’s hearing, judges will either set the date for the trial or ask prosecutors to submit more evidence.

At the start of the hearing, the prosecutor and all defendants – including two men who allegedly carried out the murder and a woman accused of being an intermediary said no when asked by the judge if they wanted a deal for a reduced sentence in exchange for a confession.

Alena Zsuzsova, who prosecutors say was an intermediary, said: “I am not interested, I am innocent.”

They will all face up to life in prison if convicted.

The court may impose a reduced sentence if they confess during the main trial.

Slovak media and Kuciak’s family lawyer have said one the defendants had admitted during the investigation to be the shooter.

A fifth man has confessed to facilitating the killing and has made a plea deal with prosecutors to act as a witness.

Prosecutors said in August they had extracted tens of thousands of messages from Kocner’s phone containing communication with “representatives of state bodies and the justice system”.

The revelations caused several senior officials to resign.

Slovakia’s former chief prosecutor was charged with abuse of power in a case also involving Kocner. (Reuters/NAN)