A shrine in Bratislava, Slovakia, paying tribute to Jan Kuckiak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, who were gunned down at their home in February 2018
Jan Kuckiak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova were gunned down at their home in February 2018, sparking huge anti-corruption protests © Bundas Engler/AP

A Slovak court has acquitted a prominent businessman of ordering the murder of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak, in a case which sent shockwaves through the central European nation.

The special court in Pezinok said on Thursday that it had not been proved that Marian Kocner, a businessman with political connections about whom Kuciak had written several articles, had ordered the murder.

Alena Zsuzsova, an associate of Mr Kocner’s, was also acquitted of helping to arrange the killing. A third defendant, Tomas Szabo, was sentenced to 25 years in jail for helping carry out the murder. Two other people have already been convicted for their role in the crime.

Prosecutors have appealed the case to Slovakia’s supreme court.

Kuciak worked as reporter at the aktuality.sk website, and had written numerous stories about corruption. At the time of his death, he had also been reporting on the activities of Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia in the east of Slovakia.

He and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova were gunned down at their home in Velka Maca in February 2018, triggering the biggest protests in Slovakia’s independent history, which led to the resignation of the country’s prime minister Robert Fico.

Businessman Marian Kocner arrives at court on Thursday ahead of the verdict. ‘I am not a saint, but I am not a murderer either,’ he said during his trial
Businessman Marian Kocner arrives at court on Thursday ahead of the verdict. ‘I am not a saint, but I am not a murderer either,’ he said during his trial © Vladimir Simicek/AFP

In the two years since, public outrage at the killings and the alleged links between politicians, justice officials and businessmen unearthed during the investigation has continued to roil Slovak politics, forcing the resignation of several senior politicians and justice officials.

Powered by widespread desire for change, Zuzana Caputova, a previously unknown anti-corruption lawyer, swept to victory in last year’s presidential election. And Igor Matovic’s anti-corruption movement, Ordinary People, won a parliamentary election earlier this year.

Ms Caputova, who visited a memorial to Kuciak and Kusnirova at a square in central Bratislava on Thursday, wrote on Facebook that the verdict had “shocked” her, and that while she respected it, she needed to “understand its reasoning”.

“I am thinking of Jan and Martina’s parents and I wish them a lot of strength at this difficult time,” she wrote.

Mr Matovic, now prime minister, switched the cover photo of his Facebook profile to an empty black rectangle, and wrote: “It seems that for now the apparent plotters of murder want to escape the claws of justice . . . Let’s hope that justice will wait for them both.”

The parents of Kuciak and Kusnirova, who were both 27 when they were murdered, also reacted with dismay. “It’s bad. We can see that justice still hasn’t begun to act in Slovakia,” said Zlatica Kusnirova, the mother of Martina, according to the Slovak website, tvnoviny.sk.

Mr Kocner has always denied any involvement in the killings. “I am not a saint, but I am not a murderer either,” he said during the trial.

The 57-year-old is already in jail having been sentenced to 19 years in a separate case for forging promissory notes earlier this year. He has appealed that conviction.

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