Analysis – Slovakia’s journalist murder trial probe’s country state corruption

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POLITICO reports that the killing last year of Ján Kuciak, 27, and Martina Kušnírová sparked the largest public demonstrations Slovakia had seen since the end of communism in 1989. Prime Minister Robert Fico was forced to quit under pressure, and electoral support for his ruling Smer party fell below 20 percent for the first time in almost two decades. And yet the investigation into the murders has made clear that the corruption at the heart of Slovak public life has deep roots.

At the start of the trial on Thursday, four people were charged with the murders of Kuciak and Kušnírová, who were executed in their home in southern Slovakia in February 2018. A fifth man, who confessed to the crime and has been working with the prosecution, awaits sentencing.

The ringleader is alleged to be Marian Kočner, an entrepreneur with close ties to Fico’s Smer party whose name was first listed in a police organized crime database a decade ago.

Kuciak had written some 25 articles on Kočner’s activities by the time he was killed. According to the indictment, Kočner first tried to find “dirt” on Kuciak to silence him, but found nothing discreditable in the journalist’s life.

It has become a familiar trope, the court case that tests a society’s integrity at the same time that it weighs the guilt of the accused. But that is exactly what is happening in Slovakia, where the trial of those accused of the murders of a young journalist probing state corruption and his fiancée is defying courtroom clichés.

What turned the murders into a national trauma was the contents of Kočner’s cell phone, on which encryption was broken earlier this year. The device yielded thousands of messages allegedly exchanged between Kočner and politicians, judges and state officials over whom Kočner seemed to wield broad, if informal influence. The messages were published by Slovak media this past summer.

Evidence leaked from the police investigation has revealed an appalling amount of political corruption, shocking voters and fueling a protest movement, Za slusne Slovensko (For A Decent Slovakia).

But even as it has spurred citizens to action, the country’s splintered political landscape and dysfunctional institutions are dimming hope that change can be delivered through the current system and parliamentary elections in February.

“The depth of the depravity uncovered by the murder investigation has depressed and demobilized many voters,” said Miroslav Beblavý, a leading figure in the PS/Spolu opposition coalition. “The key issue now is whether all this pro-change sentiment can still be transformed into election results.”

Read report on POLITICO


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