Slovak businessman charged with ordering murder of journalist Jan Kuciak

  • Philip J. Heijmans
  • 15 Mar 2019

Kuciak had written about his alleged murderer on several occasions, accusing him of exploiting his connections to the police to carry out corrupt dealings.

People place light tributes during a rally to mark one year anniversary of the slayings of an investigative reporter and his fiancee, in Bratislava, Slovakia, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. ( AP )

Following a year-long investigation, Slovak prosecutors yesterday formally charged a high-profile businessman with alleged ties to the mafia with the murders of 27-year-old investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kusnirova.

Special prosecutors told journalists during a briefing that they have charged Marian Kocner, a controversial businessman with a history of alleged corruption already in custody with having ordered the murders after the slain journalist ran afoul of Kocner.

Kuciak was found gunned down in his home with his wife Kusnirova last year on the evening of February 21, just months ahead of their wedding. A journalist with local news website, he had been reporting on corruption among several businessmen and high-level politicians as well as members of Italy's notorious 'Ndrangheta mafia with dealings in Slovakia.

The double murder sparked the largest nationwide demonstrations since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, prompting the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico, who still remains as the leader of the ruling party SMER-SD.

“The investigator accused Marian K[ocner] only when we were all convinced that he was the most likely murderer," the prosecutors explained during the briefing on Thursday, according to local media.

Kuciak had written about his alleged murderer on several occasions, accusing him of exploiting his connections to the police to carry out corrupt dealings.

A few months before the murder, the reporter was threatened by Kocner in a phone call. “You can be sure that I will start paying special attention to you personally, Kuciak. I’ll pay attention to you, your mother, your father, your siblings, I’ll be interested in everyone and will publish everything I find on you,” Kocner said in the recording of the call.

Prior to the murders, Slovak businessman Marian Kocner had allegedly threatened Jan Kuciak of consequences.(AFP)

Kuciak later took the threat to the police, but the case was dismissed on the grounds that it was not a crime.

“The reason for the murder was the journalistic work of the victim. The investigator relied on objective evidence that cannot be specified now," the prosecutor said on Thursday.

"We don't have a weapon, but we have evidence of the weapon and ammunition," he added.

Kocner has been in custody since last June on unrelated fraud charges.

“I highly commend the investigation that has led to the bringing of criminal charges against the instigator of this heinous crime,” Harlem Desir, media freedom representative of the Finland-based intergovernmental agency Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said in a statement.

“He paid an unacceptable price for investigating corruption at the highest level and his willingness to inform citizens. He has become a symbol for freedom of the Slovak media to tackle crime and the mafia,” he continued.

The charges come just days before Slovaks are to go to the polls for the first round of presidential elections on Saturday. When Fico resigned last year amid growing national protests against the government as a result of the murders, support for the ruling SMER-SD party plunged.

While SMER-backed, Maros Sefcovic, a career diplomat was presumed to be the frontrunner for the post when he declared his candidacy in January, a recent poll by the local AKO agency shows Zuzana Caputova, an opposition lawyer and activist, has now catapulted to the front of the pack. That poll, released earlier this month, showed Ms. Caputova with 52.9 percent of the vote, while Sefcovic fell to a distant second at just 16.7 percent.

“There is a demand for change in Slovakia,” she said during a televised debate on Wednesday. “People are disappointed and frustrated that justice does not always work the same for everyone.”