A former soldier has been sentenced to 23 years in prison in Slovakia for the contract killings of Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.
Kuciak’s parents were awarded €140,000 and Kušnírová’s is to receive €70,000 from Miroslav Marček, according to a court in Slovakia.
Kuciak, 27, was shot in the chest, and 27-year-old Kušnírová was shot in the head at their home in the town of Velka Maca, east of Bratislava, on 21 February 2018.
It was the second murder of a journalist in Europe that occurred four months after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta. Both journalists had reported on corruption and the links of influential business owners to political leaders.
Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew, welcomed the news. He also pointed out that in Malta, “Keith Schembri (former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff) is still running loose despite overwhelming evidence that he spent two years under Joseph Muscat’s wing covering up my mother’s murder”.
“Police have yet to fulfil an obligation to charge Schembri,” he added.
Good news. Meanwhile: Keith Schembri @keithaschembri is still running loose despite overwhelming evidence that he spent two years under @JosephMuscat_JM's wing covering up my mother's murder. Police have yet to fulfil an obligation to charge Schembri. https://t.co/PByIqLtwmd
— Matthew Caruana Galizia (@mcaruanagalizia) April 6, 2020
Reporters Without Borders welcomed the ruling and said it “hoped for fair punishment also for those who ordered the murder.
Marček, 37, who was not present at the sentencing, had admitted guilt in the case. The Judge ruled this was “a mitigating circumstance”.
“It was cold-blooded and malicious. The victims did not have a chance to defend themselves,” presiding Judge Ruzena Szabova of the Specialised Criminal Court said at the hearing in Pezinok, north of Bratislava.
Prosecutor Juraj Novocky had asked for a 25-year sentence and plans to appeal.
Three months ago middleman Zoltán Andruskó was also found guilty of the 2018 murders and jailed for 15 years for acting as a middleman in the assassination – the first person to be sentenced.
Andruskó began cooperating with police last year and was tried separately from the other men suspected of the murder. The other defendants include Marček’s cousin Tomas Szabo and Alena Zsuzsova, charged with being intermediaries.
Businessman Marian Kočner, who was a target of Kuciak’s reporting and who verbally threatened him in September 2017, is standing trial with two others in separate hearings on charges of paying for the murder. He has already been jailed for fraud.
The Shift has been slapped with two lawsuits for reporting that Kočner’s daughter was married to Maltese Christian Ellul and that he helped him set up two companies in Malta. They have since divorced.
Ellul distanced himself from Kočner’s companies at the end of 2016. Investment Holdings Ltd was struck off then, but the second – International Finance Group Ltd – remained active, although E&S Consultancy Ltd are no longer associated.
The murders in Slovakia had triggered a political crisis and brought down the country’s government. Zuzana Čaputová was elected President, praised for having joined the nation’s protests for justice.
Yet, in an interview with Aktuality – the news portal for which Kuciak worked – Kočner’s brother, Ivan, revealed that the accused of being the mastermind behind the journalist’s death had helped elect several politicians and had even helped the new President’s campaign.
All deny charges of murder.