Slovak Court’s Verdict in Kuciak Case Leaves ‘Bitter Taste’

The May 19 ruling follows two previous verdicts in the case of the young couple killed in Veľká Mača, western Slovakia, on February 21, 2018: a 2020 verdict acquitted Kočner and Zsuzsová, though a year later the Supreme Court cancelled what it termed the premature and flawed decision, and ordered the Specialised Criminal Court to retry the case.

The Kuciak case was later merged with another connected case, the attempted murders of prosecutors.

The panel of three judges presided over by Ružena Sabová on May 19 sent Zsuzsová to prison for 25 years in the Kuciak case and in the case of attempted murders of two senior prosecutors in the years 2017-2018. She is also obliged to pay 160,000 euros to the grieving families. Zsuzsová, who is already serving a 21-year prison sentence for her involvement in an unrelated murder, was not in court to hear the verdict.

While the panel had absolutely no doubts about her guilt, arguing she masterminded the journalist's murder behind Kočner's back, the panel could not agree on the businessman's alleged guilt in the Kuciak case. The vote ended 2-1 in favour of Kočner. According to the panel, the represented evidence was not full proof when it came to Kočner's involvement in the murder.

"In case of doubt, these doubts must be interpreted in the defendant's favour. Even a high degree of suspicion is not enough," Sabová read out the court's reasoning, which was streamed online.

"An acquittal is not a decision of innocence, but an expression of a lack of evidence, according to which unproven guilt has the same meaning as proven innocence," added the judge.

Kočner was also found innocent in the case of the planned murders of the prosecutors.

But observers and politicians believe that Kočner...

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