Acquittal in the Kuciak case: a setback?

In the investigation into the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak in Slovakia, the businessman accused of being behind the killing has been acquitted. Justifying its surprise decision, the court said there was not sufficient evidence that Marian Kočner commissioned and paid for the murder of the investigative journalist in February 2018. Europe's commentators alternate between disappointment and praise for the stable rule of law in Slovakia.

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Respekt (CZ) /

Hope gives way to frustration

Kočner's acquittal has stripped the Slovaks of one illusion, Respekt stresses:

“For two and a half years the Slovaks have been calling for changes to the justice system, which have been initiated in a slow and painful process. The Constitutional Court, which was left hamstrung by previous political battles, began to function once more. The composition of the Supreme Court has undergone considerable reforms aimed at cleaning out the Augean stables. ... The Judicial Council, a self-governing body of judges, has also undergone fundamental changes. Perhaps that's why so many people couldn't imagine that Kočner would be acquitted. ... When hopes are fuelled, the frustration that follows is all the more devastating.”

Népszava (HU) /

The law must not be determined by popular anger

If the evidence is inconclusive a conviction would be counterproductive for the rule of law, Népszava points out:

“The Supreme Court will probably refer the case back to the present court. New evidence and public pressure could well change the verdict. In any case the public has already made up its mind: Slovakia is the EU country where the people trust the judiciary the least. But there's another side to the coin. ... In the past few years the Romanian Anti-Corruption Directorate has sent a number of public figures to jail on the basis of questionable evidence obtained through the secret service. The public celebrated, and most of the accused were in fact guilty - most of them. The rule of law is similar to democracy: it's laborious, but there's no better alternative.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

The key piece of justice is missing

Corriere della Sera describes dashed hopes:

“Two years ago the tide began to turn. Kočner's 'impunity' was fought even from the grave by the 27-year-old investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, author of 'uncomfortable' research on government-related businessmen and the mafia, and Kočner in particular. Only a few months after the reporter's assassination, the tycoon was accused of being the mastermind - much to the satisfaction of those who had taken to the streets en masse after the crime to demand justice. ... One last, important piece was missing to achieve justice: the judicial truth. That is why yesterday's verdict was so eagerly awaited, but ultimately it disappointed everyone.”

Denník N (SK) /

Painful doubts

The acquittal of Marian Kočner leaves a wound that will be very difficult to heal, Denník N laments:

“This case is about more than just two dreadful murders. It is also about whether the Slovakian legal system can be trusted at all. Of course, Kočner too has the right to a fair trial, meaning that theoretically he can be declared innocent. In this case, however, too many doubts remain after the verdict has been handed down. We have no evidence or indications that the judges did not make their decision honestly and fairly. There is also no evidence that Kočner bribed the court. Despite the many storms that have rocked the Slovakian judiciary, we must trust that justice still prevails in this country.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

A verdict, not an ending

Despite all the consternation about the verdict, the Süddeutsche Zeitung observes a fighting spirit:

“It shows itself in the exhausted parents of the murdered, the journalists and the prosecutors. It is a joint feeling of resistance that says: We will not be deterred, there is no way that leads back to the mafia state era, only a way out of it. President Zuzana Čaputová is taking the lead. She spearheads the new democratic movement that emerged after the murder. She is now demanding clarification before the highest court. The journalists, who initiated and accelerated many investigations, will play a decisive role. The hope that this story can be brought to a good end rests on them.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

He opened the Slovaks' eyes

Rzeczpospolita takes stock of the changes ushered in by the murder of Ján Kuciak in Slovakia:

“Kuciak, 27 years old at the time of his murder, wrote about the connections between politicians, business and the mafia. When he was still alive, his stories only reached a small audience. After his death, they were read by millions. The Slovaks felt like scales had fallen from their eyes. The largest protests in the history of the country took place in Bratislava and many other cities.”