Slovakia court orders businessman's retrial over journalist murder

BRATISLAVA, June 15 (Reuters) - Slovakia's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a retrial of a businessman acquitted over the 2018 murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, following an appeal from prosecutors.

Citing a lack of evidence, a lower court last year acquitted Marian Kocner in a case that shook Slovakia and led to mass protests against graft in government.

Kuciak, 27, and Martina Kusnirova were gunned down in their home outside Bratislava.

Prosecutors allege that Kocner, the subject of Kuciak's articles on graft involving politically connected entrepreneurs, had ordered the killing due to Kuciak's reporting. Kocner has repeatedly denied the charge.

Judge Peter Paluda said the Special Criminal Court did not consider all available evidence and must re-try the case.

"Pieces of evidence were evaluated ... in an isolated way without considering relations to other evidence, which led to a wrong legal conclusion resulting in acquittal," the judge told the hearing.

The murders sparked massive protests, forced long-term leader Robert Fico to step down as prime minister, and ushered in a new government last year whose main election promise was to clean up corruption and sleaze.

A series of investigations into links between businessmen, politicians, police and judicial official has followed.

But the main test of the EU member country's judicial and political system, has been seen as finding and sentencing Kuciak's murderers.

"This is a first shout into the darkness for justice, not only for our two children, but for the next generations and for you journalists so you are not scared to write," Zlatica Kusnirova, the mother of the murdered woman, told reporters.

Along with Kocner, the court also overturned the acquittal of his acquaintance Alena Zsuzsova, who will also face a retrial. It confirmed the sentencing of a third man, Tomas Szabo, accused of taking part in the Kuciak killing as well as another murder, to 25 years.

Two other people have been sentenced to 15 and 25 years in jail, one for helping arrange the hit and one who has admitted to the shooting.

Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa; Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alex Richardson

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