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Middleman in killing of Slovak journalist points finger

January 14, 2020 GMT
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In this file picture taken on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, Marian Kocner the suspected mastermind in the slaying of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, who were shot dead in their home on Feb. 21, 2018, is escorted by armed police officers from a courtroom after a trial session in Pezinok, Slovakia. Zoltan Andrusko, a middleman in the murders, testified at court on Tuesday Jan. 14. 2020, that he contracted the killing at the request of Kocner. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek/File)
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In this file picture taken on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, Marian Kocner the suspected mastermind in the slaying of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, who were shot dead in their home on Feb. 21, 2018, is escorted by armed police officers from a courtroom after a trial session in Pezinok, Slovakia. Zoltan Andrusko, a middleman in the murders, testified at court on Tuesday Jan. 14. 2020, that he contracted the killing at the request of Kocner. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek/File)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — A man who has admitted to arranging the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancee in Slovakia told a court Tuesday that he did so at the behest of local businessman Marian Kocner.

Zoltan Andrusko told a court in the town of Pezinok, north of the capital Bratislava, that he was the middleman “at the request of Mr. Kocner.” Kocner, who denies any involvement in the slaying, had allegedly threatened Jan Kuciak following publication of a story about him.

“I am terribly sorry about what happened,” Andrusko said. “It’s impossible to fix it but I will try to do all I can to set things right,”

Andrusko confirmed the prosecution’s claim a total of 70,000 euros ($77,800) was paid, 50,000 of which in cash and the remaining 20,000 to forgive a debt.

Andrusko was among the original five suspects charged in relation to the alleged contract killing of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova in Feb. 2018 that subsequently brought down the country’s government. But he made an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a lower sentence. He has already received a 15-year prison term on Dec 30.

The four defendants still standing trial face potential prison sentences of 25 years to life. The man suspected of shooting the couple pleaded guilty on Monday. The other three defendants, including Kocner, have all pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

Kuciak was shot in the chest and Kusnirova was shot in the head at their home in the town of Velka Maca, east of Bratislava, on Feb. 21, 2018. Both were aged 27.

The killings triggered major street protests and a political crisis that led to the previous government’s collapse. Kuciak had been also investigating possible government corruption.

It is not clear when a verdict might be issued.