A safe owned by Marian Kočner, charged with ordering Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak’s murder, was discovered by Slovak police in a raid that is thought to contain potentially damaging material on influential people in the country, leading the editor of the news portal for which the journalist worked to say that he believed Kočner would be handed the harshest possible sentence.
Speaking to The Shift, Aktuality.sk editor Peter Bardy, referred to Kočner’s safe found by the police saying it may contain the contents that would ensure Kočner’s would not be a sham trial.
“Last fall during the police raids of assets owned by Kočner, the police discovered a safe. There could have been compromising materials in it….Kočner could have received many potentially damaging materials on influential people. That is why I believe that people responsible for investigating the murder cannot be blackmailed by Kočner’s associates who are currently free,” Bardy said.
He told The Shift that he had faith that the legal process would lead to Kočner being handed the harshest possible sentence. Bardy said Kočner had become a “toxic” person to be associated with since Kuciak’s murder, following immediate suspicion that he was involved.
“No-one wants to be connected with his name,” Bardy said on Kočner who established two shell companies in Malta linked to political scandal and potential money-laundering. Kočner’s daughter was married to a Maltese – they have since divorced.
Described as “a controversial businessman living on the edge of the law” by the Slovak media, Kočner was already in custody at the time of his subsequent arrest on Thursday, on separate charges related to fraud.
Bardy has accused the authorities in Slovakia of fostering a culture of impunity that permitted his assassination by a businessman linked to politics and organised crime.
In an article posted on the Aktuality.sk portal that Kuciak had worked for before his death, Bardy wrote that if Kočner had ordered his murder, he did it because he was confident that his friends and his friend’s friends would protect him from justice.
Infamous in Slovakia for having links to organised crime and friends in high political, police, and judicial places, he had also been the topic of Kuciak’s last published article – on a VAT tax fraud scheme that involved him selling apartments to himself for nominal fees.
Kočner’s companies in Malta
In 2011, Kočner received €4 million from an unnamed Maltese bank which was then allegedly used to bribe Slovak politicians.
One of the companies he owned in Malta – Investment Holdings Ltd – was set up in 2010 and owned two hotels in Slovakia valued at €21 million.
Strangely, it was owed €4 million in VAT in Malta, even though a cursory look at its financials indicate that its main activity in that year was purchasing the two hotels, according to corporate lawyers consulted by The Shift.
In 2011, the VAT reclaim disappears (implying it was paid) and is replaced with a separate line item as a €4 million loan receivable.
The companies were set up by E&S Consultancy Ltd, partly owned by the former husband of Kočner’s daughter, but they were cut loose at the end of 2016. Investment Holdings Ltd was struck off then, but the second – International Finance Group Ltd – is still active, although E&S Consultancy Ltd are no longer associated.
Last year, the directors resigned and Swiss national Emil Sisak entered the scene. The company is owned by another company registered in offshore jurisdiction St Kitts & Nevis.
No action taken on threats reported
Bardy accused the authorities of assisting in his assassination by consciously and unconsciously helping to eliminate the investigative journalist. He named oligarchs, organised crime networks, and corrupt police and politicians as complicit in the cover-up and protection of the man accused of ordering the hit on Kuciak.
Kuciak had reported threats he received from Kočner to the police, but no action had been taken. In a Facebook post, Kuciak wrote that it had been 44 days since he had filed a report with the police for threats against him. He had said that he felt nothing was being done about it.
Kuciak had written over a dozen articles about Kočner, focusing on a long list of corrupt dealings that were made possible due to his connections with the police and prosecution. Then, one day in September 2017, Kočner called him personally and told him “you can be sure that I will start paying special attention to you personally Mr Kuciak”.
The phone call was recorded and reported to the authorities, yet nothing was done, no protection was given, and the threats were deemed “not threatening”. Five months later, the 27-year old journalist and his fiancée were assassinated in their own home.
Bardy, described the police and prosecutors’ attitude to the report as “tossing it like a hot potato” and harshly criticised them for failing to protect a citizen.
Soon after the murder that occurred just over a year ago, Slovak police chief Tibor Gaspar had told a televised news conference that it was likely Kuciak’s murder was connected to his work. Yet it took more than a year for them to follow up on the reports that Kuciak had filed.
Kočner was known for regularly harassing and targeting journalists who wrote about him and was implicated in another case of threatening journalist Adam Valcek.