FILE PHOTO: A woman kneels by a memorial on the first anniversary of the murder of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and
FILE PHOTO: A woman kneels by a memorial on the first anniversary of the murder of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova in Bratislava, Slovakia, Feb. 21, 2019.

PEZINOK, SLOVAKIA - A former soldier told a court on Monday he had been hired to kill Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak a reporter known for his corruption investigations whose murder triggered anti-graft protests that brought down the prime minister.

Marcek, 37, said his cousin co-defendant Tomas Szabo had approached him with an offer to do the contract killing and drove him to the house.

Marcek told the Special Criminal Court in Pezinok, north of the capital, that he had not known who Kuciak or Kuciaks fiance, Martina Kusnirova, were when he killed them at their house outside Slovakias capital Bratislava in February 2018.

"I want to apologize to those affected for the harm that we have caused. Nothing can make up for that, there is no satisfactory apology. Seeing them on television, seeing their pain forced me to talk, he told the court, according to Aktuality.sk news website.

Prominent businessman Marian Kocner was also in court, accused of ordering the hit. He denied the charge, but he admitted to a lesser illegal arms offense the police found undeclared ammunition at his place.

A third defendant, Alena Zsuzsova, denied charges of being an intermediary in the killings. Szabo, a former police officer charged alongside Marcek with murder, did not enter a plea.

The case is seen as a test of Slovak police and judicial independence after an investigation into the murders exposed business and personal links between Kocner and security officials.

Kuciak, a postgraduate student of journalism, had delved into fraud involving businessmen with political connections.

He had reported on Kocners business activities, including the takeover of a television station and property deals.

A fifth suspect, Zoltan Andrusko, confessed in December to facilitating the murder and a court handed him a 15-year prison sentence.

Long-serving Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, his cabinet, and later the national police chief, resigned after the murder provoked the countrys biggest protests since the fall of communism.

Crowds called for an independent investigation and an end to widespread corruption.