Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovak authorities have officially charged four people, including notorious businessman Marian Kočner, for the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova.
Marian Kočner, a high-profile businessman believed to have ordered the hit, was charged with the murder earlier this week by Slovak prosecutors, along with three individuals accused of carrying it out.
Kočner and two other defendants pleaded not guilty. The fourth one confessed to the killing, while a fifth man who allegedly facilitated the murder agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors to act as a witness in the trial of the other four.
According to Slovak authorities, €70,000 had been paid for the contract killing. The accused could face life in prison if found guilty.
Investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were shot dead at their home, in February last year, in a hit prosecutors believe was linked to the journalist’s investigative work into government corruption, including involving Kočner.
His murder sparked a wave of public anger and prompted the biggest protests in Slovakia since the end of communism which eventually forced then-Prime Minister Robert Fico out of office, along with the Interior Minister and chief of police.
The ruling Smer party has however remained in power and appointed a close ally from Fico, Peter Pellegrini, to head the government.
The investigation into the killings intensified in recent months, with the publication of shocking leaked messages from Kočner’s phone which led to more resignations, including from Slovakia’s Deputy-Justice Minister, two prosecutors and a judge.