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Slovakia: Court acquitted the businessman in the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, victim family disappointed

Pezinok, Slovakia: A panel of judges in Slovakia has acquitted a businessman accused of masterminding the slayings of an investigative journalist and his fiancee. Judge Ruzena Sabova at the Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok announced the verdict on Thursday.

The verdict, handed down by a special criminal court that handles the country’s most serious cases, can be appealed in Slovakia’s Supreme Court. It is likely to draw scrutiny, because the murder ignited outrage across Slovakia and led to calls for reform. The journalist, Jan Kuciak, 27, was shot and killed with his fiancĂ©e, Martina Kusnirova, in February 2018 in his home in Velka Maca, a village outside Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava.

Their bodies were discovered days after the murder, and as evidence mounted that Mr. Kuciak was the target of an assassination, the killings set off the largest nationwide protests since the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The protests brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets calling for a thorough investigation and condemning the systemic corruption that has long plagued the small Central European nation.

The victim’s families left the courtroom, many in tears, after the judge announced the verdict, saying they would appeal to the Supreme Court. “I’m very disappointed — I expected more of our justice system,” said Jozef Kuciak, the murdered journalist’s father. “But we’re definitely not giving up.”
The verdict came as a shock to many observers in Slovakia, and experts said it was likely to exacerbate the distrust that many Slovaks already have for the justice system and rule of law in their country.

“Despite the fact that I respect the decision of the court, I think justice was not found today,” said Michal Vasecka, a sociologist at the Bratislava Policy Institute. “And what is much worse, I think nobody ever looked for it in the first place.” The murders shocked the country and led to calls for sweeping reforms.

“The murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova has opened a window of opportunities, reflected by the society in a mass movement,” said Erik Lastic, the head of the political science department at Comenius University in Bratislava.

But the acquittal of Mr. Kocner and one of his associates, Alena Zsuzsovs, is likely to attract 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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