Following the news that Slovakia’s Supreme Court overturned the acquittal of Marian Kocner, who was accused of ordering the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova, observers have spoken of the “huge relief’ felt by their families.
Deputy Director of the International Press Institute (IPI) Scott Griffen, who was on the ground observing the trial, said that last summer’s acquittal of the charges against Kocner had devastated them.
Martina Kusnirova's mother and Jan Kuciak's father speak to media after Supreme Court overturns last year's devastating not guilty verdicts. The fight for justice goes on. pic.twitter.com/mz9qtETOtY
— Scott Griffen (@scott_f_griffen) June 15, 2021
Griffen noted that the court criticised the initial verdict for failing to consider all evidence and circumstances in the case. This, they said, resulted in an incorrect result.
The case will now be referred back to the Special Criminal Court which had previously acquitted him.
Kuciak and Kusnirova were murdered in 2018. The assailant broke into their home and shot them both in a murder that shocked Slovakia and the rest of Europe.
Peter Bardy, the editor of Aktuality, the news portal for which Kuciak worked, had said: “He just an embodied human kindness. He didn’t do the job for money.”
It confirmed what many Slovaks long feared, which was that organized crime, politics, and an oligarch mafia were exerting influence throughout society.
The murders sparked widespread protests and the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico and half of his cabinet.
Two men, Miroslav Marcek and Zoltan Andrusko pled guilty and were sentenced to 23 and 15 years respectively. They admitted that they had carried out the murders. Marcek’s cousin, Tomas Szabo, pled not guilty but was convicted and received a sentence of 25 years at a separate trial last September.
Kocner and one of his associated Alena Zsuzsova were also in the dock that day but were found not guilty of ordering and paying for the murder. The court had ruled there was not enough evidence to convict them.
The prosecution appealed the verdict and, today, a Supreme Court Senate of three judges agreed with the prosecution and sent the case back for a retrial. Both Kocner and Zsuzsova have had their ‘not-guilty’ status annulled.
Both are currently serving long jail sentences for other, unrelated crimes. Zsuzsova was found guilty of being the middle man in another ordered killing in 2010. Kocner is serving 19 years for forgery.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also reacted to the news calling it a welcome step towards justice that is vital for press freedom in Europe.
#Slovakia: The Supreme Court has overturned Marian Kocner’s acquittal on a charge of ordering journalist #JanKuciak’s murder. @RSF_inter welcomes this step towards truth and justice in a case that is vital for #pressfreedom in Europe. #allforjan pic.twitter.com/MLXMfZ92Hl
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) June 15, 2021
“Slovakia cannot afford another diversion from the question of truth about the murder,” RSF added.
Kocner is a well-known businessman with interests in real estate, investments, and the financial sector. His name had previously appeared on leaked police documents otherwise known as “mafia lists” back in 2005. He was suspected of involvement in organised crime.
In 2019, he was included on the global Magnitsky sanctions list, and in February 2020, he was sentenced to almost two decades in jail for forging $75 million in promissory notes to embezzle money from Markiza, a television channel in Slovakia.
Kuciak’s journalism focused on investigating tax fraud involving businessmen connected to the ruling party. Kuciak had also been working on an investigation that involved Kocner, in particular suspicious transfers of hotels owned by him. In 2017, Kocner called Kuciak and confronted him, threatening to start gathering incriminating evidence about him and his family, Slovak media reported.
He was writing about further illegalities to the tune of millions of euros involving Kocner at the time of his murder.
The prosecution claims that Kocner asked Zsuzsova to arrange the murder, and she then asked Zoltan Andrusko, who gave the order to Szabo and Marcek.
The family of Kuciak immediately suspected Kocner as the mastermind, after he was murdered.
He was just 27 years old at the time of his death.