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Businessman Acquitted in Murder of Jan Kuciak, Investigative Journalist

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Businessman Acquitted in Murder of Jan Kuciak, Investigative Journalist

PEZINOK, Slovakia — After eight months of a carefully watched trial, Marian Kocner — as soon as one of Slovakia’s strongest and effectively related businessmen — was acquitted on Thursday of ordering the homicide of an investigative journalist who had threatened to reveal an online of corruption among the many nation’s political institution, company elite and arranged crime rings.

The decision, handed down by a particular prison court docket that handles the nation’s most severe instances, might be appealed in Slovakia’s Supreme Court docket. It’s possible to attract scrutiny, as a result of the homicide ignited outrage throughout Slovakia and led to requires reform.

The journalist, Jan Kuciak, 27, was shot and killed together with his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, in February 2018 in his dwelling in Velka Maca, a village exterior Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava.

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Their our bodies have been found days after the homicide, and as proof mounted that Mr. Kuciak was the goal of an assassination, the most important nationwide protests for the reason that 1989 Velvet Revolution started. The protests introduced a whole lot of hundreds of individuals to the streets calling for a radical investigation and condemning the systemic corruption that lengthy plagued the small Central European nation.

“The homicide of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova has opened a window of alternatives, mirrored by the society in a mass motion,” stated Erik Lastic, the top of the political science division at Comenius College in Bratislava.

The murders shocked the country to action and led to calls for sweeping reforms. But the acquittal of Mr. Kocner and one of his associates, Alena Zsuzsovs, is likely to bring renewed scrutiny to the system. Another man on trial for the crime — Tomas Szabo, a former soldier — was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

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“It showed what had been hidden to us before, things we only whispered about, but there was never enough proof,” Mr. Lastic said. “Eventually, a lot of things that have been ignored for decades have finally been dealt with over the past two years.”

The longtime prime minister Robert Fico was forced to step down amid the protests, making way for a new government. The calls for a political overhaul also propelled Zuzana Caputova, an environmental activist and lawyer who had never previously held elected office, into the presidency in 2019.

Mr. Kocner has been the focus of several financial-crime investigations in the past two years. He was convicted in February in a separate case involving the defrauding of a U.S.-owned television network, and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

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Still, he was unbowed when the murder trial began. He arrived at the courtroom in Pezinok wearing a flashy navy blue suit and tie and proclaiming his innocence.

But over the course of the seven-month-long trial, the court heard witness after witness testify to a nexus of political corruption and organized crime at the heart of the Kocner enterprise that also reflected the nation’s broader struggles.

In many ways, the testimony was an extension of the reporting Mr. Kuciak was pursuing when he was murdered. As one of a new breed of journalists who benefited from reforms Slovakia had adopted since joining the European Union in 2004, Mr. Kuciak specialized in working with open data and public sources.

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The journalist, who worked for the news website Aktuality.sk, had uncovered a number of soiled companies managed by Mr. Kocner when in September 2017, six months earlier than his homicide, he acquired a cellphone name from the highly effective businessman.

“You might be being very private, you’re a dangerous one who is being tasked by somebody, and I’ll discover out who you’re working for,“ Mr. Kocner stated in the decision, based on a transcript revealed by Aktuality.sk. “I’m going to take a particular curiosity in you, your mom, your father and your siblings.”

Mr. Kuciak reported the risk, however it was by no means investigated. Threats in opposition to journalists in Slovakia are widespread, and Mr. Kuciak’s household stated they’d by no means dreamed that anybody making a risk in opposition to him would observe via.

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A former intelligence officer, Peter Toth, instructed the court docket that he labored for Mr. Kocner as supervisor of a crew that was used to uncover the “soiled secrets and techniques” of Slovak journalists and different enemies.

Mr. Kocner, nonetheless, maintained that he would by no means have ordered the homicide of a journalist.

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“I’m not a saint, however I’m not a assassin both,” he stated in his remaining assertion on July 31. “And I’m positively not dumb sufficient to not understand what a homicide of a journalist may trigger.”

Mr. Kuciak’s homicide set off a number of prison investigations and spurred different reporters to pursue the threads of corruption that the journalist had began to tug at.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project acquired hundreds of pages of knowledge collected by regulation enforcement through the homicide investigation and has made it out there for the information media in what it has named the “Kocner library” in Bratislava, supposed to present journalists the instruments to carry Slovakia’s justice system to account.

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In keeping with prosecutors, a quantity of new prison instances have been opened based mostly on the file, together with an investigation right into a former common prosecutor, a former authorities minister and distinguished judges.

Vladimir Turan, the chief prosecutor in the case in opposition to Mr. Kocner, instructed the court docket in his remaining assertion that whereas the murders might need introduced much-needed perception into an online of corruption and energy, the associated fee was too excessive.

“Most of all,” he stated, “it’s a case of a sacrifice of two harmless younger individuals, asking for a life in a fairer nation.”

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