A court in Bratislava sentenced former soldier Miroslav Marček to 23 years prison on April 6 for the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak (pictured above) and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.
Marček, who was not present at the sentencing, had in January pleaded guilty to shooting dead 27-year-old Kuciak and Kušnírová at their home in the town of Velka Maca, east of the Slovak capital, on February 21, 2018.
“It was cold-blooded and malicious. The victims did not have a chance to defend themselves,” judge Ruzena Szabova said at the sentencing, but added: “the confession was a mitigating circumstance.”
Prosecutors had requested a 25-year sentence and may appeal the judge’s decision.
Mr Kuciak had long reported on corruption and the links of influential businessmen to senior political, judicial and police figures, and his killing triggered the largest nationwide protests since Slovak independence in 1993. The protests led to the resignation of long-standing prime minister Robert Fico a month later, and the killings have since come to represent a sea change in Slovak politics.
Fico’s party, Smer, continued to govern until two months ago, when it was ousted by a coalition of four other parties, after a general election campaign in which corruption, the rule of law, and the legacy of the Kuciak murder were key issues. The Movement of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO), a centre-right populist party led by Igor Matovič, a millionaire and former news business owner, scored a decisive win running on a slogan of Let’s Beat the Mafia Together.
Last year, anti-corruption activist and environmental campaigner Zuzana Čaputová was elected president despite never before running for office. She admitted at the time that she had felt impelled to act following the murder of Kuciak and Kušnírová. Her first act as president was to light a candle at a memorial to the couple.
Yet the sentencing of Mr Marček does not bring the case to a close.
Businessman Marián Kočner, who was a target of Kuciak’s reporting and who verbally threatened the journalist in September 2017, is standing trial with two others in separate hearings after being charged with masterminding and paying for the murder.
Prosecutors claim that Kočner paid Marcek 70,000 euros for the killing. Three other people are also charged with aiding the murder. Last month, Slovak police said they had arrested 18 people, including 13 judges, who are accused of attempting to obstruct the investigation into the murders.
Last year, the deputy speaker of Slovakia’s parliament, Martin Glváč, the president of Bratislava highest court, David Lindtner and deputy justice minister Monika Jankovská were all forced to resign after it was revealed that they had communicated with Kočner after the murders.
Kočner’s trial is due to start later this month.
In December last year, Kočner was placed on a blacklist by the US Treasury, citing his alleged direct involvement in the murders. Kočner is only the second EU citizen ever to be placed on the blacklist, which freezes his assets in the US and prevents his companies from doing business in the US.
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