Slovakia’s Supreme Court has overturned the acquittal of a high-profile businessman accused of masterminding the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, and ordered a retrial.

Marian Kocner was acquitted last year by the specialised criminal court in Pezinok of ordering Kuciak’s killing in 2018, which sent shockwaves through Slovakia and triggered the largest protests in its independent history.

Following an appeal by prosecutors, Slovakia’s top court ruled on Tuesday that the acquittal of Kocner and Alena Zsuzsova, an associate of his who was accused of helping arrange the killing, should be cancelled as the court in Pezinok had not adequately considered all available evidence.

A new trial will now be held in the specialised criminal court. Both Kocner and Zsuzsova have repeatedly denied the charges against them.Kuciak, who was 27 when he was killed, worked as reporter at the aktuality.sk news website, and had written numerous stories about Kocner. At the time of his death, he had also been reporting on the activities of Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia in the east of Slovakia.

He and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova were gunned down at their home in Velka Maca in February 2018, triggering huge street protests, which ultimately led to the resignation of Slovakia’s then-prime minister Robert Fico.In the three years since, public outrage at the killings and the alleged links between politicians, justice officials and businessmen unearthed during the investigation, has continued to disrupt Slovak politics, forcing the resignation of several senior politicians and justice officials.

Public anger also helped sweep the anti-corruption lawyer Zuzana Caputova to the presidency in 2019, and the anti-corruption movement of Igor Matovic to government in 2020. Bringing those responsible for the killings to justice has become a closely watched test of Slovakia’s judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

Caputova said on Tuesday that the ruling by the Supreme Court was a “very important step” towards restoring confidence in the judiciary.

“The suffering of the parents and relatives of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova does not end after today’s decision, but they are one step closer to justice,” she said.

“Jan Kuciak pointed out the cynicism of the powerful and he and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, paid for it with their lives.”

The ruling was also welcomed by relatives of Kuciak and Kusnirova. Kusnirova’s mother, Zlatica, said that she was “glad that justice has won”.

The court also confirmed the 25-year sentencing handed down to a third man, Tomas Szabo, for his involvement in the killings. Two further people have already been convicted for their role in the crime.