Four people have been charged with the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, including a businessman with past links to Malta.
Businessman Marian Kočner and two alleged accomplices have pleaded not guilty, and a fourth person has confessed to the murders. A fifth suspect has admitted his or her part and agreed to a plea deal with authorities to act as a witness against the others, according to The News Agency of the Slovak Republic (TASR).
Kočner was at the centre of many of Jan Kuciak’s investigations, and he was one of the lead suspects since the early stages of the investigation. Described as a “controversial businessman living on the edge of the law” by Slovak news site Aktuality.sk, Kočner was already in custody on fraud charges when he was indicted for the journalist’s murder.
Kuciak and his fiancée were shot at close range in their home in Bratislava in February 2018. The murder sparked large-scale protests in 24 towns across Slovakia, and in 17 other cities around the world. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and his government resigned en masse after allegations surfaced that they were either complicit or negligent in the deaths.
If found guilty, the four suspects will likely spend the rest of their lives behind bars for commissioning, organising and carrying out the murders.
Kočner was the subject of many of Jan Kuciak’s articles, including the last story he published, an investigation into Kočner’s role in a VAT fraud scheme where the businessman was selling apartments to himself for nominal fees. Kuciak alleged that the businessman had links to organised crime, as well as friends in politics, the police and the judiciary.
In an article published by Aktuality.sk, the portal Kuciak worked for, Editor Peter Bardy wrote that if Kočner had ordered the murder, he did so because he was confident that his friends and his friends’ friends would protect him from the law.
Kočner owned two companies in Malta that were set up in 2010 by the former husband of Kočner’s daughter, Christian Ellul. One company, Investment Holdings Ltd, has since been closed while another, International Finance Group, is still active but Ellul’s company is no longer associated.
Ellul and Schranz have filed two libel suits against The Shift and, separately, against Matthew Caruana Galizia, the son of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, over stories reporting the facts surrounding the case.