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. 


Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.