Ján Kuciak, a youthful Slovak insightful columnist who was killed three years prior, never made quick work of what might have been the greatest story of his life.
Since quite a while ago receptive to monetary misrepresentation and defilement, he was intently following the doings of Marian Kočner, a reckless money manager who much of the time showed up on TV and in the sensationalist newspapers to boast about his manors and sports vehicles.
In 2017, Kuciak had gone over Kočner’s most recent plan: an endeavor to get an adjudicator to grant him almost 70 million euros from the coffers of a mainstream TV slot on the rear of deceitful archives.
Kuciak just had conditional proof to go on, yet in May 2017 he distributed an article portraying how an adjudicator had overlooked key proof to administer in support of Kočner. After nine months, the youthful writer was killed.
The incredible finance manager was very much aware of Kuciak’s detailing and had undermined him previously. In March 2019, he was accused of getting sorted out the homicide of Kuciak and his fiancee, dispatching a fight in court that grasped Slovakia’s consideration for quite a long time.
Unexpectedly, however Kočner was absolved of that charge (a decision investigators are engaging), he wound up accepting a heavy jail sentence for the fake plan Kuciak had been attempting to uncover.
The youthful correspondent could never recount that full story himself. Yet, utilizing court records, a huge number of instant messages, and meetings with police agents, OCCRP and its Czech part community, investigace.cz, would now be able to show precisely what Kočner did — and how he nearly pulled off it.
The plan was basic, even “unsophisticated,” as the possible liable decision put it. What Kočner depended on was not splendor, but rather his associations inside Slovakia’s legal framework. Utilizing pay-offs, terrorizing, and an amazing delegate, he directed the results for this situation and others that were essential to him.
“What he was doing was made conceivable by the framework,” said Jaroslav Láska, the police specialist who drove the criminal examination concerning Kočner’s phony reports. “The framework and the political pioneers that were here. It was his association with legislative issues, to equity, to everything — that is the thing that made him so solid.”
In a previous examination, OCCRP showed how, for quite a long time, Kočner utilized money and kompromat to twist the country’s legal framework to his will.
It was solely after Slovaks shouted out for equity in the wake of Kuciak’s homicide that Kočner confronted lawful results after numerous long stretches of exemption.
What’s more, it wasn’t just him. Following up on proof from Kočner’s held onto wireless, the police have done a few significant debasement examinations that have captured above and beyond twelve adjudicators, investigators, and police authorities. Presently, only three years after his demise, the string that Kuciak began pulling has disentangled, uncovering a framework that was no good.
In light of solicitations for input, Kočner’s attorney Marek Para said that his legitimate group would claim the conviction, and called a portion of the proof against his customer “not real and controlled.”
To extricate 70 million euros from TV Markiza, a mainstream TV channel, Kočner went to Pavol Rusko, a desperate youth colleague who likewise turned out to be the station’s long-lasting co-proprietor and chief.
In 2005 Rusko unexpectedly sold his keep going offers for next to nothing and thusly experienced monetary challenges, bowing out of all financial obligations in 2012. Kočner assisted his old associate by purchasing the bank’s case on his home and allowing him to continue to live there. In a matter of seconds a short time later, their conspiring started.
Kočner got tightly to a printer and paper made around the year 2000. He utilized them to make bogus promissory notes showing that he had lent Rusko almost 70 million euros that year. The notes said the obligation was “ensured” by TV Markiza.
As the station’s previous chief, Rusko marked the notes and vouched for their veracity. But since he was bankrupt and had no reserve funds, the commitment to follow through on the phony obligation would tumble to TV Markíza. Kočner sued the station in 2016 for declining to pay.
His case didn’t appear to be solid. Kočner was requesting the reimbursement of a gigantic advance that had probably been given without anybody yet him and Rusko truly thinking about it. Television Markíza’s overall chief affirmed that its bookkeepers had discovered no proof of any arrangement having been made with Kočner. The station’s legal counselors likewise called attention to that Rusko’s mark on the promissory notes was altogether different from the one he utilized on different reports in 2000.
Police examiners would later discover at any rate six master experts who affirmed that the promissory notes were phony.
Kočner expected to guarantee that such proof would not be heard in court. He went to Monika Jankovská, a previous appointed authority who had ascended to the situation of agent equity serve. With her senior position, broad associations, and love of extravagance extras, she was the ideal switch.
Jankovská would later deny any relationship with Kočner. “I don’t know him, I did not communicate with him, neither directly nor indirectly,” she said at a press conference. “Not in person, nor through a middleman. In no way.”
But the evidence says otherwise. Encrypted text messages extracted by the police from an app used by Kočner show that Jankovská was an invaluable ally and intermediary. In the ten months leading up to Kočner’s arrest in June 2018, he and Jankovská exchanged over 6,000 calls and messages.
Jankovská also happened to be the mentor and former supervisor of Zuzana Maruniaková, a new and inexperienced judge at Bratislava’s fifth district court who had just been assigned to hear one of Kočner’s suits against TV Markiza.
Later, after being detained by police, Judge Maruniaková described Jankovská’s insistent campaign to pressure her to rule in Kočner’s favor.
“She helped me many times, especially when she found doctors for my seriously ill mother,” Maruniaková said. “I always respected her instructions, though I sometimes disagreed.”
Maruniaková said Jankovská first approached her shortly after she was assigned the Kočner suit. The case was easy, her former boss assured her, and the promissory notes genuine. “I won’t trick you into some bullshit,” Maruniaková recalled her saying.
Kočner’s messages show that Jankovská was acting on his instructions.
JZuza [Zuzana Maruniaková] isn’t replying. Might be working.Jankovska02.11.2017 13:45:21KOK. Hopefully she’ll reply. I guess she won’t work until tonight. Try to manage it before you leave [on holiday].Kočner02.11.2017 14:09:13JSure.Jankovska02.11.2017 14:43:39
Fearing a less auspicious hearing for his claims after the 2020 parliamentary elections, he wanted to rush the trial.KWe need to push hard with Zuza to achieve at least something, because this won’t be possible after the elections.Kočner5.11.2017 09:48:01
Kočner believed he had everything ready, including bulletproof evidence.KToday, there was an expert analysis done by the department of chemical and alimentary technology of [Slovak Technical University]. … They made an analysis of the [promissory notes] papers. … So far the result is the promissory note is AT LEAST 15 YEARS OLD!Kočner27.09.2017 15:02:32KThis might convince Zuzka to move! What do you think?Kočner27.09.2017 15:10:11
“Jankovská urged me to set a hearing date as soon as possible, preferably for September 2017, and to make the ruling at this first hearing,” Maruniaková later testified. “I didn’t feel ready, so we agreed to set up the first hearing on February 8.”
Three days before the hearing, Kočner wrote Jankovská again.KSHE MUST NOT POSTPONE.Kočner05.02.2018 18:50:34JNo, or I will fuck her myself 👊👊👊👊. She promised. Multiple times. I made her what she is, so it is time to pay the debt!!!!!Jankovská05.02.2018 18:51:19
Jankovská then paid a visit to Maruniaková’s office. “She was very upset and unpleasant,” Maruniaková said. “She said that she always helped me and my family. And that, depending on what I do on February 8, she’ll decide whether she’ll turn the page and forget about my ‘misbehavior.’”
“I told her that I was scared. And she answered that I should be scared only after [the ruling].”
Jankovská’s messages to Kočner confirm that the two were waging a campaign of intimidation.JYesterday she [Maruniaková] was sitting in a cafe and saw you in a car. She almost shit herself, thinking that you were following her.Jankovská31.01.2018 16:50:38JShe can shit or pee herself for what I care!!! She’s supposed to do what she promised! Otherwise I will end [things] with her.Jankovská06.02.2018 15:44:43
But despite the pressure, Maruniaková did not issue a ruling at the first hearing on February 8, later explaining that it was not her “normal practice” to do so. Kočner had to wait until the next hearing, which was scheduled for Thursday, February 22.
That morning, an anonymous bomb threat forced all the courts in Bratislava to be evacuated. TV cameras captured Kočner pacing in front of the building and talking on his cell phone.
Prosecutors would later establish that, by that time, he’d known for several hours what the rest of the country would not learn until the following week: The previous evening, Ján Kuciak, the young investigative reporter who had been hot on his trail, had been murdered along with his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.
When their bodies were found four days later, the news made international headlines. Growing protests would eventually lead to the resignation of the prime minister and other officials.
But Kočner was still thinking of his promissory notes.KHello. Is Zuza ok?Kočner26.2.2018 21:07:45JFor now, she is. A bit scared after today 😂😂😂Jankovská26.2.2018 21:10:39KShe should do what she is required to do. Or she will end up like Kuciak 😜😜😜.Kočner26.2.2018 21:15:19
In the end, his case took four more hearings to conclude. But on April 26, Maruniaková finally ruled in Kočner’s favor, declaring the promissory notes genuine.
The businessman was elated.JHurrayyyy we got rid of oneJankovská26.04.2018 13:28:15KFinally some success, I believe the tables have turned.Kočner26.04.2018 13:28:20
But TV Markiza’s defense team was adamant that the trial had been conducted unfairly, pointing to Maruniaková’s failure to admit key witnesses and expert testimony that would have contradicted Kočner and Rusko’s claims. Instead, she had relied on the analysis of a single forensic expert provided by Kočner himself.
Maruniaková later conceded that she had caved. “I do admit that during the trial, I was influenced by Dr. Jankovska, I was acting under her pressure,” she told police.
“As a young new judge, I didn’t handle the situation well. I succumbed to pressure and wasn’t acting rationally,” she said. But Maruniaková was adamant that her decisions had not been influenced by the promise of financial reward.
Messages between Kočner and Jankovská suggest otherwise.KI suppose you’re going to split Zuza’s reward also with Denisa.Kočner21.02.2018 18:46:24JNo, Deni will get part of mine. I promised that cunt something and now I must keep it.Jankovská21.02.2018 18:46:50“Denisa” is another judge, Denisa Cviková, who allegedly helped Maruniaková write her judgement.
In an appeal to the Regional Court in Bratislava, the TV Markiza team challenged the fairness of the trial. They also filed a criminal complaint against Kočner and Rusko. The case was assigned to an experienced investigator, Jaroslav Láska.
He had little idea what he was getting into.
On a freezing February morning, Láska met an OCCRP reporter in a park in the historic central Slovak town of Banská Bystrica to recount his experience. The tall, thin man was animated, his eyes sparkling, as he spoke about the Kočner case, which he says changed his life. But he’s glad that difficult period is over.
As he set to work, methodically collecting evidence to expose Kočner’s forgery, he realized he was being targeted himself.
“It happened to my son that he was followed by a car all the way from school to home,” he said. “He called me [when I was] in Bratislava, and he was alone there at home.”
Kočner had hired private detectives to track his family.
“I was just telling myself, you idiot, you put him in danger!”
Láska said that Kočner also hatched a plot to compromise him. “I was asked to meet someone,” he said. “This someone came with Para [Kočner’s lawyer].” Láska understood that the idea was for someone to publish a photo of the two men together to suggest that he was leaking information to Kočner. “I immediately turned and walked away,” he said. “That probably saved me.”
“I underestimated his influence and how far he was willing to go,” Láska said.
But he continued his work. On June 20, 2018, Rusko and Kočner were charged with counterfeiting, falsification, unauthorized production of money and securities, and obstruction of justice.
“We got intel that he was planning an escape, had a boat ready in Croatia,” Láska said. “We needed to act immediately.”
Commandos tracked Kočner down and handcuffed him as he was eating with friends at a Caribbean-themed bar on the shores of a lake outside Bratislava.
“Was he surprised? Well, you never know with Kočner. He has this poker face,” Láska said.
At their criminal trial, Kočner and Rusko’s legal teams continued arguing that the promissory notes were genuine, and had been confirmed as such by expert analysis.
Jankovská, arrested on March 11, 2020, along with Maruniaková and 11 other judges, denied intimidating her former subordinate. But Maruniaková started cooperating with police, admitting that she had made her decision under Jankovská’s influence.Credit: David Ištok/Aktuality.skZuzana Maruniaková is brought in for questioning by National Crime Agency officers on March 11, 2020.
Jankovská’s lawyer, Peter Erdős, declined to comment for this article, citing the ongoing court case. However, he noted that his client was not serving as a public official at the time of the promissory notes case.
In early 2020, Kočner was found guilty and sentenced to 19 years in prison. The sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court on January 12, marking the first time the businessman had faced consequences in his long years of pulling the strings. His co-conspirator, Rusko, was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Though Kočner is now sitting in a Bratislava prison, he has more court appearances in his future. He faces four more criminal and corruption charges, including ordering the murder of Kuciak and Kušnírová. (He was acquitted of that charge in September 2020, but prosecutors have appealed.)
Meanwhile, his arrest had a ripple effect across Slovakia’s judicial system. Police found text messages on his phone that went far beyond his exchanges with Jankovská. They led investigators to another senior judge, Vladimír Sklenka, whose communications with Kočner reveal the extent of his connections within Slovakia’s judicial system. After his office was searched, Sklenka decided to cooperate — and his testimony led to that network’s unraveling.
As the deputy president of the Bratislava’s First District Court, Sklenka was useful to Kočner because he could influence a number of business disputes in which Kočner was embroiled. In 2019, Kočner’s phone contained over 9,000 messages he’d exchanged with Sklenka.
The judge was introduced to Kočner by an acquaintance, a businessman named Ladislav Mojžíš who promised him an informal meeting with the influential operator. Sklenka agreed.Credit: TASRVladimír Sklenka.
The two men met in an empty conference room of a hotel in the forested outskirts of Bratislava. As they chatted about politics, Kočner gave Sklenka a scrap of paper with four case numbers on it. As a favor, he asked Sklenka to check on the status of the proceedings. Sklenka agreed, and was rewarded for his trouble — to the tune of 5,000 euros in cash.
“See, I told you he’s cool,” Mojžíš said of Kočner.
In another meeting at the same hotel, Kočner proposed a solution for secure communication.
“He asked me what kind of telephone I have, so I showed him my old Nokia,” Sklenka told investigators. “And he told me I need a different phone.” In short order, Kočner brought a used silver iPhone 6 from his car and helped Sklenka install Threema, his preferred secure text messaging application. From that point on, it was the only way the two men communicated, Sklenka said.
Early in his useful new friendship, Kočner asked only for small favors. Sometimes he wanted to know which judge would be in charge of which case, or check on the status of court filings.
Sklenka seemed happy to oblige. In fact, he was such a font of information that Kočner sometimes felt overwhelmed.KSlow down! I am fucking losing the thread of conversation!!!Kočner17.11.2017 19:43:45
Requests for larger favors soon followed, such as ruling in Kočner’s favor or asking other judges to do so. Soon Kočner was not just telling Sklenka how to rule, but bringing him the reasoning he should use, already written and saved on USB sticks.
“I was very busy and the reasoning was well written, so I took it and let it upload it into the judicial software,” Sklenka confessed.
In exchange, Sklenka received payments ranging from a few thousand to 100,000 euros per ruling, part of which was laundered through a company belonging to Sklenka’s wife.
“Unlike other judges, I had no fixed rate,” he said. “I never asked about the money in advance.” In total, he admitted to accepting around 170,000 euros from Kočner.
Sklenka was also the one who distributed Kočner’s bribes to other judges — not just cash, but also luxury items such as perfumes and handbags. And since his usefulness to Kočner was proportional to his popularity, Kočner came up with the idea of having him distribute gift boxes to his colleagues on Christmas.KHow many women do you have in the office who should get a gift? I’ll have Christmas boxes made. As if they were from you.Kočner07.12.2017 18:05:13KThe box: a bit of tea, chocolate, candy, small sweet wine, cookie. … I want you to have an unshakeable position there [at the court].Kočner07.12.2017 18:15:01
The boxes were well received and Sklenka informed Kočner that his colleagues were grateful.
In his testimony, Sklenka exposed not only himself, but also 14 other judges whose decisions Kočner attempted to influence. But it went further than Kočner.
In 2020, the police launched three major operations — “Storm,” “Thunderstorm,” and “Weed” — in which they arrested 21 prominent judges, including the deputy head of the Supreme Court. They were accused of corruption and infringement on the independence of the courts, charges which in some cases also involved dealings with Kočner. Another constitutional judge resigned as a result of public pressure.Credit: David Ištok/Aktuality.skNational Crime Agency officers conduct a mass operation to arrest allegedly corrupt judges on March 11, 2020.
It wasn’t only the judges and courts. In November and December 2020, two former police presidents were also charged with heading an organized criminal group, abuse of power, extortion, and corruption. One later committed suicide in his jail cell.
The head and deputy head of the financial crime unit within the Financial Administration were also slapped with serious charges, including abuse of power, extortion, and support of a criminal group. Top prosecutor Dušan Kováčik, who earned the nickname “61:0” for failing to issue any indictments in the 61 cases he was assigned, was charged with organized criminal activity, corruption, and failing to prosecute men who were plotting the assassination of a police investigator.
These revelations took place in a Slovakia that had radically transformed. After the outrage caused by Kuciak’s murder, those who had once made Kočner untouchable started to turn away from him. By failing to keep his encrypted conversations with judges and prosecutors hidden, Kočner took down some of the most influential people in the country’s judiciary.
Meanwhile, Láska has moved on from the police force and is now working for Slovakia’s Judicial Council as an investigator of judicial corruption. Asked whether he thought the anti-corruption crackdown would continue, he said he didn’t know.
“But I hope it will,” Láska said. “I still have a few tips.”