Monday

26th Sep 2022

Slovak rule of law in spotlight over journalist murder

  • Martina Kušnírová and Ján Kuciak (Photo: Peter Tkac)

The Slovak Supreme Court is to decide on who killed journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in 2018 after a lower court let the prime suspect off the hook on Thursday (3 September).

The evidence did not prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that businessman Marián Kočner ordered the killing, the Special Criminal Court in Pezinok, near Bratislava, ruled.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It did fine Kočner €5,000 for illegal possession of firearms after police found 60 bullets in his home, amid allegations that the murder was linked to Italian organised crime and to Kuciak's investigation into mafia fraud of EU subsidies.

But the victims' family left the courtroom in tears, Reuters reported.

"It's clear that justice hasn't come to Slovakia yet," Zlatica Kušnírová, the mother of Kuciak's fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, told TV reporters.

"Someone powerful is still pulling the strings, and unfortunately we don't have those strings ... Our children are in the grave and Kočner is laughing," she said.

"I will do everything I can to find out why the court did not accept the evidence and freed the mobster [Kočner]," Péter Bardy, the editor-in-chief of Aktuality.sk, the news agency where the victim used to work, also said.

The case prompted mass protests and the fall of the Slovak government over corruption accusations two years ago.

And the new Slovak prime minister and president voiced dismay on Thursday in a sign of its ongoing political resonance.

"It seems that the apparent plotters of murder want to escape the claws of justice ... Let's hope that justice awaits them both," prime minister Igor Matovič said on Facebook, referring to Kočner and a suspected accomplice, who was also acquitted on Thursday.

"The court's verdict shocked me, and I need to understand its reasoning. I respect it, but I expect the search for justice will not end, and will continue in the Supreme Court," president Zuzana Čaputová said.

Justice will have a second chance after a Slovak prosecutor appealed on Thursday, propelling the case to the country's highest tribunal.

The Supreme Court can either uphold the Pezinok ruling or order a retrial.

And the final outcome in Slovakia is likely to send ripples beyond its borders, amid EU concern over erosion of rule of law in several peripheral and central European member states.

The family of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist who was murdered in 2017, for one, had looked to Slovakia as a model of law enforcement and political accountability, they previously told EUobserver.

"There is still work to do to ensure justice and prevent impunity [in Slovakia]," Dunja Mijatović, a human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, also said on Thursday in a first international reaction.

"This is owed to the families and colleagues of both victims, as well as to Slovak society at large," he said.

"The verdict is shocking. The acquittal of the accused mastermind and intermediary is evidence of a huge failure of the investigation bodies and the judiciary," Pavol Szalai, from the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders, added.

"We expected Slovakia to set a positive example in the prosecution and condemnation of the crimes against journalists. Instead, we remain in a situation of impunity," he said.

Croatian and Slovak courts seen as 'least independent'

Independence of courts in Austria, in Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherland and Denmark is seen as very, or fairly, good, according to a survey published with the EU Commission's annual justice scoreboard.

Corruption failures also highlighted in rule of law report

The European Commission's first report on the rule of law has raised concerns over the lack of effective anti-corruption efforts in some members sates - while it considers Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands have good governance measures.

Opinion

What von der Leyen's 'State of Union' didn't mention

Ursula von der Leyen barely noticed that European democracy is under attack not only from external threats, but from within. Two of the world's leading autocratic countries are EU member states.

News in Brief

  1. More Russians now crossing Finnish land border
  2. Report: EU to propose €584bn energy grid upgrade plan
  3. Morocco snubs Left MEPs probing asylum-seeker deaths
  4. EU urges calm after Putin's nuclear threat
  5. Council of Europe rejects Ukraine 'at gunpoint' referendums
  6. Lithuania raises army alert level after Russia's military call-up
  7. Finland 'closely monitoring' new Russian mobilisation
  8. Flights out of Moscow sell out after Putin mobilisation order

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  5. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling

Latest News

  1. Ireland joins EU hawks on Russia, as outrage spreads
  2. Editor's weekly digest: Plea for support edition
  3. Investors in renewables face uncertainty due to EU profits cap
  4. How to apply the Nuremberg model for Russian war crimes
  5. 'No big fish left' for further EU sanctions on Russians
  6. Meloni's likely win will not necessarily strengthen Orbán
  7. France latest EU member to step up government spending in 2023
  8. Big Tech now edges out Big Energy in EU lobbying

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us