Ex-soldier admits contract killing of Slovak journalist

In this file photo taken on December 19, 2019, defendant Miroslav Marcek arrives for the start of the trial of Slovak businessman Marian Kocner, who is suspected of ordering the 2018 assassination of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, at court in the Judicial Academy building in Pezinok, Slovakia. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2020

Ex-soldier admits contract killing of Slovak journalist

  • Kuciak’s investigative journalism had delved into cases of fraud involving businessmen with political connections

PEZINOK, Slovakia: A former soldier admitted in court on Monday killing a Slovakian journalist whose murder two years ago led to anti-corruption protests that brought down the government of long-time prime minister Robert Fico.
Miroslav Marcek told a court he was hired to kill 27-year-old Jan Kuciak, who he shot along with Kuciak’s fiancée Martina Kusnirova at their house outside Slovakia’s capital Bratislava in February 2018.
Five people, including a prominent businessman who the investigation into the murder showed had links with security officials as well as judicial and political figures, have been charged in relation to the couple’s deaths.
The case is seen as a test of Slovakia’s judicial and political system ahead of an election in February.
Four suspects were in court on Monday in Pezinok, north of Bratislava, including Marcek’s cousin Tomas Szabo, who Marcek said had approached him with an offer from another of the defendants to undertake the contract killing.
A Reuters reporter said they were led into the courtroom by guards wearing balaclavas and carrying automatic rifles.
Marcek, 37, told the court how an initial plan to kidnap Kuciak and then kill him was abandoned because it was too complicated.
Describing the killings, he said he hid outside the house before the victims came home on Feb. 21 then waited for an opportunity to strike.
“That came when Ms Kusnirova went to the toilet. I hit him (Kuciak) in the chest,” news website www.sme.sk quoted Marcek as saying.
He said he had killed Kusnirova so that she could not identify him. “He (Kuciak) was falling backwards, he held on to the door with one hand, and she came. It was not possible to just leave,” Marcek said.
He told the court he was sorry for his actions and that he had decided to confess after seeing the victims’ families on television.
A fifth suspect, Zoltan Andrusko, admitted to facilitating the murder and was sentenced to 15 years in prison last month.
Also in court on Monday was businessman Marian Kocner, who is accused of ordering the hit. He denied that charge, but admitted a lesser offense related to illegal ammunition found by police at his house.
A third defendant, Alena Zsuzsova, denied charges of being an intermediary in the killings.
Szabo, a former police officer, pleaded not guilty to murder. Slovak media reported that Szabo said he had been approached by Andrusko about beating up Kuciak, but not killing him.
Kuciak’s investigative journalism had delved into cases of fraud involving businessmen with political connections.
He had reported on Kocner’s business activities, including the takeover of a television station and property deals.
Fico, his cabinet, and later the national police chief all resigned after the murders sparked Slovakia’s biggest protests since the fall of communism, with crowds calling for an independent investigation and an end to widespread corruption.
Fico continues to lead his Smer party ahead of the February parliamentary election.
Last March, liberal lawyer Zuzana Caputova rode a wave of public fury over corruption to win election as Slovakia’s first female president. 

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.