PRAGUE – A Slovak court handed down a 15-year sentence to a man accused of facilitating the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in 2018 in a plea deal Monday, a spokeswoman said.
The killing of Kuciak and his fiancé, 27, at their home outside Bratislava in February 2018 sparked mass anti-corruption protests in Europe’s central nation, shocking the government. The issue will play a role in a parliamentary election due in February.
Zoltan Andrusko, 42, was one of the five defendants in the case, but the only one who confessed and demanded a plea agreement to act as a witness.
The trial of the other four, including entrepreneur Marian Kocner who was the subject of Kuciak’s reporting of fraud cases involving politically connected businessmen, began on December 19th and will continue in January.
Andrusko had agreed to a 10-year sentence with prosecutors but a court on Monday rejected that agreement and proposed a longer sentence, which the defendant accepted, the court said.
“This court considers the reduced sentence extremely reasonable as well as logical, but the court, by its decision, should seek justice not only for the accused but for all parties to the case, for society, for justice in law, “newspaper Dennik N quoted Judge Pamela Zaleska.
Prosecutors say Kocner had ordered Kuciak’s murder. He and his associates, who have all pledged not guilty, will face life in prison if convicted.
The case is a test of Slovak judicial independence given that the investigation exposed links between Kocner and police and public officials.
The killings sparked widespread public outrage and forced Prime Minister Robert Fico to resign last year. His ruling party, Smer, faces a close election on February 29th. (Reporting by Jason Hovet Editing by Gareth Jones)