The first week of the trial of the four suspects charged with the murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová was marked by the emotional testimonies of the two families and the chilling confession of the middleman involved in their death.
One of the two hitmen, Miroslav Marček, confessed during Monday’s hearing as he told the court that he killed Kušnírová because he knew that she would identify him had he let her live.
Kuciak and his fiancée were shot at close range in their home in Bratislava in February 2018. Marček shot Kuciak as soon as he opened the door, and then noticed Kušnírová and realised that he was not wearing a mask over his head.
“It was not possible to just let her go…I ran after her to the kitchen and shot her too,” he told the court.
The murders 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.
Five men were arrested in connection with the murders – prominent businessman Marián Kočner, his close associate Alena Zsuzsová, and the two hired assassins Macek and Tomáš Szabó. The middleman Zoltán Andruskó pleaded guilty in December and was jailed for 15 years for his role in the assassination, making him the first person to be sentenced.
Kuciak’s father Jozef Kuciak said he immediately thought of Kočner as the main suspect – a sentiment that was echoed by other members of the family. His younger son told the court that Kočner, who was the subject of a number investigative articles, had publicly berated his brother at a press conference and had called the young journalist, threatening to collect dirt on his entire family.
Kušnírová ‘s mother, Zlata, told the court: “I would like to ask the defendants: who gave them the right to touch the lives of our children? The defendants also have children — daughters.”
During the trial, Andruskó – who was given a lighter sentence in exchange for providing the police with information – told the court how Kočner and his associate Zsuzsová wanted to get rid of other people, aside from Kuciak.
He started by apologising to the victims’ families before explaining how Zsuzsová had approached him for other hits. In 2017, she offered him €20,000 to murder Maroš Žilinka, a prosecutor who was investigating Kočner.
“If I hadn’t done the work, they would have killed me,” he said. The murder, however, did not take place.
He also linked her to the 2010 murder of László Basternák, the former mayor of Hurbanovo in Slovakia, saying he saw her order the killing “in cold blood”. The mastermind of this crime was never caught.
She approached him about murdering Kuciak for the first time in “late 2017 or early 2018,” he said.
Andruskó, who has been cooperating with the police since his arrest, had accepted to kill Kuciak and his fiancée in return for €50,000 in cash and the forgiveness of more than €20,000 in debt.
Zsuzsová provided him with surveillance photos of Kuciak that clearly showed the journalist had been watched for many days, Andruskó said.
He then contacted Marček, who was his cousin, and former police officer Tomáš Szabó to carry out the hit.
Zsuzsová and Kočner are denying Andruskó’s claims, as their lawyers are arguing that there are discrepancies between his 2018 confession and his testimony in court.