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Trial Opens in Murder of Slovakian Investigative Journalist, Fiancee

Four people, including a businessman said to be the mastermind behind the murder of Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, are now on trial for the crime that shocked the country and rocked the European Union.
Authorities said they believed the killings were tied to Kuciak’s work investigating possible widespread government corruption and ties between Slovak politicians and Italian mobsters, with the suspects taken into court escorted by heavily armed guards.
The killings brought down a government. The accused face potential prison sentences of 25 years or life if convicted. A fifth suspect reportedly made a deal to cooperate with prosecutors in return for a lighter sentence, which faces review by a judge.
Kuciak, 27, was shot in the chest, and Kusnirova was shot in the head, the killings setting off fury in the streets and the biggest protests since the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. The protests culminated in the ousting of Premier Robert Fico as well as the country’s police chief.
Marian Kocner, a businessman who had allegedly threatened the journalist following publication of a story about him was charged with hiring former intelligence officials to carry out surveillance on Kuciak ahead of his killing, for which another suspect, the alleged hitman, Miroslav Marcek, was said to have been paid 70,000 euros ($77,892.50.)
Kuciak filed a complaint with police in 2017 over the alleged threats but said it was ignored by police when then jumped on the case of his murder that brought intense scrutiny and saw the FBI, Scotland Yard, Europol, Eurojust and police forces from Italy and the Czech Republic join in.
Kuciak had been writing about alleged ties between the Italian Mafia and people close to Fico when he was killed as well as about corruption scandals linked to the former prime minister’s leftist Smer Social Democracy party.
During the investigation, Slovak media said Kocner created a network of contacts with politicians, judges and prosecutors who allegedly helped him with his business dealings and the case led to judges, the deputy parliamentary speaker and a senior justice ministry official quitting.
Dobroslav Trnka, the country’s former prosecutor-general, was charged by police with abuse of power for his alleged cooperation with Kocner when he held his post.

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