International press freedom organisations have expressed shock at the “situation of impunity” brought about by the acquittal of Marian Kočner, who was charged with the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová .
A court ruled on Thursday that there was no evidence to prove Kočner ordered the killing of the investigative journalist. Judge Ruzena Sabova also cleared the charges against a co-defendant in the murder case, Alena Zsuzsova, while a third individual was convicted for his role in the murder.
The International Press Institute said the acquittal of Kočner was a setback for justice and the fight against impunity.
🔴 The acquittal of suspected mastermind Marian Kočner in the murder of #Slovak journalist #JanKuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová is a major setback for justice and the fight against impunity, IPI said today.
Read our full statement here ⬇️https://t.co/USaLedviy2
— IPI – The Global Network for Press Freedom (@globalfreemedia) September 3, 2020
Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed in a car bomb four months before Kuciak’s murder, said the ruling was “shocking, terrible news”. He said the failure to deliver justice in this case was a failure of all of Europe.
Shocking, terrible news from Slovakia. Marian Kocner and middleman acquitted. The failure to deliver justice in this case is a failure of all of Europe. https://t.co/kZEuGK9pvh
— Matthew Caruana Galizia (@mcaruanagalizia) September 3, 2020
Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters without Borders (RSF) said Slovakia was expected to set an example but “instead, we remain in a situation of impunity”. The organisation said it was shocked by the verdict, noting that the acquittal is evidence of a failure by the investigative bodies and the judiciary.
We expected #Slovakia to set a positive example regarding the prosecution and condemnation of crimes against journalists. Instead, we remain in a situation of impunity. Who ordered the killing of #jankuciak? Why was he killed? We should have a clear answer. pic.twitter.com/HN3EF4Ayg1
— Christophe Deloire (@cdeloire) September 3, 2020
The statements echoed those by a number of other international organisations such as Article 19 that condemned the acquittal “despite condemning evidence”.
— ARTICLE 19 ECA (@article19europe) September 3, 2020
Kočner was only sentenced to pay a €5,000 fine for being in possession of illegal weapons after 60 bullets were found in his home.
The Slovak journalist and his girlfriend were shot and killed in their home in 2018.
Kuciak had been investigating Kočner, reporting on his shady business dealings and corruption. In the final story he published, Kuciak wrote about Kočner’s role in a VAT fraud scheme in which he was allegedly selling apartments to himself for nominal fees.
Kuciak also reported on Kočner’s links to organised crime as well as friends in politics, the police and the judiciary. These links were recently confirmed when, earlier in March, police in Slovakia arrested 18 individuals.
Thirteen of those arrested were judges, and all believed to be part of a network of judges, politicians and prosecutors who had accepted bribes from Kočner.
The murders of Kuciak and his fiancée sparked large scale protests in 24 towns and cities across Slovakia, as well as in 17 other cities throughout the world.
The prosecution in the case had requested 25-year prison terms for the three defendants, who each pleaded not guilty to charges of murder.
Kočner has always denied his involvement in the murder. “I am not a saint, but I am no murderer either”, he told the jury.
Two individuals have already confessed to the murder, and have been sentenced.