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Slovak journalist murder trial to start in December

FILE PHOTO: A man attends a protest rally in reaction to the murder of Slovak investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava, Slovakia April 5, 2018. The placard shows portraits of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova and reads "Not enough". REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - The trial of a high-profile Slovak businessman and three others charged with ordering and carrying out the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancee will start on Dec. 19, the special criminal court said on Wednesday.

The murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova still dominates the EU member country more than a year after it prompted mass demonstrations against corruption and forced the resignation of then prime minister Robert Fico, who had been premier for 10 of the previous 12 years.

The trial comes ahead of a general election on Feb. 29, with polls showing a slide in support for the ruling SMER party and the rise of anti-system and far-right parties as politicians from traditional parties struggle to play down their ties to the leading suspect.

Kuciak, 27, and Kusnirova were gunned down in their house outside the capital Bratislava in February last year.

Prosecutors say entrepreneur Marian Kocner, a subject of Kuciak’s reporting on corruption, had contracted out the killing.

Kocner and two alleged accomplices have pleaded not guilty while the fourth suspect has confessed to the shooting.

A fifth man has confessed to facilitating the killing and has made a plea deal with prosecutors to act as a witness in the trial of the other four, who could face life in prison.

The case has been seen as a test of Slovak police and judicial independence after the investigation exposed business and personal links between Kocner and security officials.

Recent weeks have seen a number of resignations including a deputy minister, two prosecutors and a judge. All have denied any connection to the murders of Kuciak and Kusnirova.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Toby Chopra