Powerful Slovakian Businessman Acquitted in Journalist’s Murder

A Slovakian businessman with political connections was acquitted Thursday of ordering the murder of Jan Kuciak, a journalist who was investigating corruption in the central European country.The court said it did not find evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Marian Kocner ordered the February 2018 murder of the 27-year-old Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova.FILE – Candles and a portrait of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.The murders triggered the largest demonstrations since Communist rule ended in 1989, were denounced by political leaders, and forced then-Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign. A new government was installed in March after an election campaign based on the promise it would root out corruption.Although the court convicted another defendant of participating in the murders, President Zuzana Caputova, a former human rights attorney, said she was shocked by the ruling and expected appeals to the Supreme Court.Kuciak and his fiancée were shot to death in their home outside the capital, Bratislava.The murder trial was viewed as a test of a national judicial system long reputed to be susceptible to corruption.Arpad Soltesz, a former Kuciak colleague and director of the Slovakian Investigative Center of Jan Kuciak, told VOA that circumstantial evidence is not enough to secure a conviction.“As long as we don’t have a convicted mastermind of the murder, the case is still open and justice was not served,” Soltesz said. “That means that we have to start over and work harder, until we find more evidence. I hope the police and the prosecutor’s office will do the same.”Drew Sullivan, of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, agreed with Soltesz, tweeting, “it’s only circumstantial evidence.”The Brussels-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement it was “disappointed” in “the acquittal of the suspected mastermind, and urges prosecutors to appeal” the verdict.Kocner, a former journalist-turned businessman who is widely seen as one of the most powerful people in Slovakia, came under intense media scrutiny for his business dealings and was eventually convicted of financial fraud. Kocner told Kuciak in a phone call five months before he was assassinated, “I guarantee you will stop writing.”

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