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Middleman in Slovak journalist's killing points finger in court

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

Zoltan Andrusko was among 5 original suspects charged in alleged contract killing of Jan Kuciak and fiancée

Marian Kocner, right, the suspected mastermind in the slaying of an investigative journalist and his fiancée, and suspected gunman Miroslav Marcek, left, are escorted by armed police officers from a courtroom last month during a trial session in Pezinok, Slovakia. Zoltan Andrusko testified Tuesday that he contracted the killings at the request of Kocner. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

A man who has admitted to arranging the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée 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 ($101,712 Cdn) 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 Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova in February 2018 that subsequently brought down the country's government. But he made an agreement to co-operate 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 Monday. The other three defendants, including Kocner, have all pleaded not guilty to murder charges.

Candles are placed in front of a photo of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, during an anti-government rally in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 9, 2018. (Ronald Zak/Associated Press)

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.

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