How does a court in Slovakia, a shady businessman, a murdered journalist, 18 arrested public officials and coronavirus come together in one twisted plot?
Through Slovakian murder suspect Marian Kočner, who is on trial for being the mastermind of murdered journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová. Next week’s hearings have been postponed as part of a series of measures to contain coronavirus in the country.
The former businessman once again recently hit the headlines after 18 public officials were arrested last week – of these 13 were judges. They are believed to be part of a network of judges, politicians, and prosecutors bribed by Kočner.
The arrests were also the topic of discussion by Al Jazeera journalist Flo Phillips for the station’s investigative programme The Listening Post.
“Kuciak was looking into tax fraud among businessmen with ties to some of Slovakia’s top politicians. One of those figures was Kočner, and Kuciak revealed that Kočner had direct links with police and prosecution. In fact, when Kuciak told police that Kočner was sending him threats, the police did nothing. A few months later he was found dead in his home,” she said.
Phillips drew similarities with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta. “She suffered years of harassment and intimidation for exposing corruption at the very highest level of government”.
Kočner’s former son-in-law, Christian Ellul, from the firm Ellul and Schranz, has filed three libel suits against Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew and two libel suits against The Shift for reporting the links. Ellul was married to Kočner’s daughter and set up companies for him in Malta that he later disassociated himself from.
The 18 public officials were arrested following police investigations into contact made between several judges and Kočner, who is facing charges of bribing judges who, in turn, are accused of corruption and obstruction of justice.
In a judgment handed down last month, Kočner was sentenced to 19 years in prison over a separate case related to forgery and securities crimes.
Kočner is one of four suspects on trial for the assassination of Kuciak and his fiancée – together with his close associate Alena Zsuzsová, and the two hired assassins Macek and Tomáš Szabó.
In his chilling testimony, Szabó told the court 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.
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.
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.