The former colleagues of murdered Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak said they had suspected Slovak businessman Marián Kočner to be the mastermind behind the assassination especially after the young journalist wrote 23 articles about his shady business deals in just one year.
Peter Bárdy, editor-in-chief of Slovak newspaper Aktuality, where Kuciak worked, spoke about how Kuciak’s work at the publication had even led to the criminal prosecution of Kočner in one case.
Bárdy was testifying in the murder trial of Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová who were both shot at their home in Bratislava in February 2018.
Four people are on trial in connection with the murders – Kočner, his close associate Alena Zsuzsová, and the two hired assassins Macek and Tomáš Szabó. Last week, Szabó gave a chilling testimony in court where he gave details about the murder.
Szabó recounted how he ran after Kušnírová into the kitchen of the house she shared with Kuciak, only to realise that he had to kill her because she saw his unmasked face. He shot her at close range.
Bárdy had nothing but high praise for Kuciak’s love and dedication to the job: “He just an embodied human kindness. He didn’t do the job for money.”
He described him as a young but eager investigative journalist who turned down offers from other media outlets that wanted to poach him once they realised the type of articles he was writing.
“He received a job offer with double the salary he got at that time. But he didn’t take it. He was an extremely good friend and was always willing to help all of his colleagues with anything, even when it was often absurd,” Bárdy said.
Kočner started standing out in Kuciak’s work on controversial businessmen and politicians and, in just one year, was the focus of 23 articles by the young journalist.
One particular article about Kočner’s shady business transactions in trade with ownership of hotels in the Slovak mountainous region of Donovaly led to a criminal case being opened against the businessman.
Kočner later openly threatened Kuciak but Slovak police did nothing about it.
“Ján Kuciak was one of the first journalists who consistently started to call attention to Kocner’s fraud,” Marek Vagovic, chief of the investigative team at Aktuality, told the court.
“I am a hundred per cent sure that Marian Kočner was the mastermind behind the murder,” he said.
Late last year, middleman Zoltán Andruskó pleaded guilty and was jailed for 15 years for his role in the assassination, making him the first person to be charged. His collaboration with the police provided them with vital information about the double murders.
Kuciak’s parents told the court last week that they immediately suspected Kočner as the man who ordered the killings. The businessman had called the young journalist, threatening to collect dirt on his entire family.
In an emotional testimony, 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”.
The killings had 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.