Slovakia ordered a retrial Tuesday in the case of a prominent businessman who was acquitted of masterminding the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
A lower court last year acquitted businessman Marian Kocner, citing lack of evidence. But Supreme Court Judge Peter Paluda said the court had not considered all available evidence.
"Pieces of evidence were evaluated ... in an isolated way without considering relations to other evidence, which led to a wrong legal conclusion resulting in acquittal," Paluda told the court.
Kuciak was a reporter for the Bratislava news website Aktuality and the Sarajevo-based Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
He and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, were found dead of gunshot wounds at their home in Velka Maca, a village east of the Slovak capital, Bratislava, in February 2018. Kuciak was the first journalist to be killed since Slovakia gained independence.
They changed their country.
From the start, police said they believed Kuciak’s reporting was a likely motive in his murder, according to reports at the time.
Mass protests took place across the country over the murders and corruption allegations that were being reported on by the country’s press. The rallies led to high-profile resignations, including then-Prime Minister Robert Fico.
Slovakia convicted two people for their roles in carrying out the double murder. But in September 2020, Kocner was acquitted, along with a fourth suspect, Alena Zsuzsova, who was suspected of acting as a middleman in arranging the killing. Zsuzsova also faces a retrial.
Kocner had been the subject of Kuciak’s corruption coverage. Before his death, Kuciak reported receiving threats from the businessman.
Kocner denies any involvement in the murder. He is currently serving a 19-year sentence for a financial fraud conviction.
Kusnirova’s mother welcomed the retrial.
"This is a first shout into the darkness for justice, not only for our two children, but for the next generations. And for you journalists, so you are not scared to write,” she told reporters.
Media rights groups also see the retrial as a sign of hope, but they called on the Supreme Court to thoroughly examine all evidence.
“The Specialized Criminal Court now has a clear task: it must exhaustively consider all evidence and the full circumstances of this case. The deficiencies in the ruling identified by the Supreme Court must be addressed, and the logic of the original ruling scrutinized,” said Scott Griffen, deputy director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute.
“IPI stands in solidarity with the families of Ján and Martina, and all those whose lives have been affected by this unspeakable crime. We and our partners will not rest until justice has been secured,” said Griffen, who attended the hearing.
New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also welcomed the ruling, calling it a “crucial step toward ending impunity in Kuciak’s killing and ensuring that all journalists can work safely and freely in Slovakia.”
Securing full justice in the murders of journalists is rare, with killers going free in nine out of 10 cases, according to CPJ, which compiles an annual index that tracks convictions in such cases.
Some information in this report came from Reuters.