Verdict expected in case of journalist murder that rocked Slovakia

Slovak businessman Marian Kocner, accused of ordering and carrying out the murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, walks inside the courtroom to receive his verdict in Pezinok, Slovakia

A Slovak court is expected to rule on Thursday on whether an influential businessman ordered the murder of an investigative journalist, in a case that prompted mass street protests and led to the reshaping of the country’s political landscape.

The killing of Jan Kuciak, 27, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova forced then prime minister and longtime leader Robert Fico to step down, and ushered in a new government in March this year whose main election promise was to clean up sleaze.

The couple were gunned down in their home outside Bratislava in February 2018, in a killing that mirrored the murder in Malta four months earlier of another journalist investigating corruption, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Bringing Kuciak’s killers to justice has been a test of Slovakia’s judicial and political system, long seen as susceptible to corruption.

The verdict has been postponed from August, and it is still possible that it may be postponed again after the prosecution asked to present additional evidence.

Prosecutors say Slovak entrepreneur Marian Kocner, the subject of Kuciak’s reporting on corruption involving politically connected business people, had ordered the killing of the reporter. Kocner denies the charge.

The investigation has forced the resignation of several senior politicians and judicial officials on account of their previous links to Kocner.

Prosecutors are seeking a 25-year jail sentence for Kocner and for each of his two co-defendants.

Two others have already been convicted in the case after admitting guilt. One of them, a former soldier, received 23 years in prison for killing Kuciak and his girlfriend, while a fifth suspect admitted to facilitating the murder and was given a 15-year sentence.

Kocner, who is well-known in Slovak business and political circles, has already received a 19-year sentence in a separate case after being convicted of forging 69 million euros in promissory notes.

Slovaks’ anger over the killing of Kuciak and his fiancee and perceptions of persistent graft helped to usher in activist lawyer Zuzana Caputova as the country’s president last year.

It also opened the way for Igor Matovic’s outsider Ordinary People party to win a February parliamentary election this year, allowing him to become prime minister.

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