Shaken Slovakia braces for trial over murder of investigative journalist

Political fallout continues from 2018 killing of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova

The trial of four people charged over the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend is due to start on Thursday, as shockwaves from the case continue to shake the nation ahead of parliamentary elections in February.

Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova were shot dead at his house east of the Slovak capital, Bratislava, on February 21st, 2018. They were both 27-years-old and had planned to marry three months later.

He investigated corruption in business and politics, and uncovered connections between associates of Slovakia's then prime minister Robert Fico and alleged criminals including people with links to the Calabrian mafia.

The double murder brought tens of thousands of Slovaks onto the streets in the biggest protests seen there since the 1989 anti-communist revolution, and piled pressure on Mr Fico’s government and populist Smer party.


After initially clinging to their posts, Mr Fico and his powerful interior minister and police chief resigned, but Smer continues to govern even as a stream of revelations from the case erodes trust in the Slovak establishment.


Powerful businessman Marian Kocner is accused of ordering the murder of Kuciak, whom he allegedly threatened in 2017 in a bid to stop the journalist reporting on his dealings; police did not act when Kuciak reported the incident.

Mr Kocner and two other people charged over the murders have pleaded not guilty, while one man has confessed to the killing and another man has admitted acting as an organiser in the crime and agreed a plea-bargain with prosecutors.

Investigators said this summer that they had cracked thousands of encrypted messages sent to and from Mr Kocner’s phone to people including “representatives of state bodies and the justice system”.

In recent weeks, deputy parliamentary speaker Martin Glvac and deputy justice minister Monika Jankovska resigned after their alleged contacts with Mr Kocner were revealed. Earlier this year, two deputy general prosecutors and a judge also stepped down when Slovak media publicised their links to the entrepreneur.

On Wednesday, investigators accused former Slovak prosecutor general Dobroslav Trnka of abusing his office by allegedly concealing the existence of audio recordings that contained evidence of possible crimes.

"This step is logical and a good signal that the police are free to act and no one is protecting these people," said Slovak prime minister Peter Pellegrini.

Mr Trnka was suspended in October after a Czech news website published footage of Mr Kocner fitting a hidden camera in his office.

Mr Pellegrini is an ally of Mr Fico, who continues to wield great influence as leader of their Smer party, which heads opinion polls before February’s parliamentary elections.

Liberal challenge

Smer could face a challenge from several liberal parties if they forge an effective alliance, and voters who oppose Mr Fico's aggressive populism swept former lawyer and environmental activist Zuzana Caputova to the Slovak presidency in March.

"Our people are now demanding full transparency, zero corruption, zero tolerance for misusing the judiciary and police," Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak said recently.

“There is no doubt that this will play a very important role also in upcoming parliamentary elections,” he told Voice of America.

"I must say that this killing has changed my country and that this is a different Slovakia after the murder," he added of the death of Kuciak and Kusnirova.

Not all Slovaks are convinced of the change, however.

"I don't even know if [the killers] being punished would satisfy me," Zlatica Kusnirova, Martina's mother, told the news portal where Kuciak worked.

“Rather, I think it would satisfy me, and their deaths would have some meaning, if everything was put right; the things that have already come to light and those that have not. Because that’s what both of them would have wanted.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe