The arrest of a top-ranking politician suggests that Czech law enforcement and politics are finally becoming disentangled. From Respekt.by Jaroslav Spurny and Erik Tabery 18 May 2012
More details have emerged since the dramatic arrest on 14 May of David Rath, governor of the Central Bohemia region. A high-ranking Social Democrat, Rath will face bribery and fraud charges for his role in an alleged manipulated tender.
At the time of his arrest, he was in possession of 7 million crowns ($345,000) and police reportedly discovered another 30 million crowns ($1.5 million) under the floorboards of Rath’s home. The 7 million crowns were packed in a wine box, and Rath claimed to have no idea of the contents of the box. The incident has sparked jokes across the country, including a doctored image of Roth hoisting a winemaker of the year plaque, and the assertion that Rath has surpassed even Jesus with his ability to turn wine into money.
According to the daily Mlada fronta DNES, leaks from the case suggest that Rath allegedly helped provide cover for a plan to gain kickbacks from a contract to reconstruct a dilapidated chateau in the town of Bustehrad, about 15 miles northwest of Prague. The price of the contract was artificially inflated and the tender fixed so that a specific company, Konstruktiva Branko, would win, and then pay 24 million crowns to the ringleaders.
Insisting on his innocence, Rath released a statement on 16 May, reported by the Czech Press Agency, comparing himself to Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister now serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office that many believe to be politically motivated. Rath has stepped down from his governorship and left the Social Democrats but has yet to give up his parliamentary seat.
Below are two short commentaries on the case published by the weekly Respekt.
Governor Rath and the Law in the Czech Republic
by Jaroslav Spurny
State prosecutor Lenka Bradacova, along with her team of police and prosecutors, has sent politicians a message: you are not the only ones who rule here; there is also the law. That is so far the most important message that the arrest of Governor Rath and seven other people has produced. All are suspected and have been accused of corruption and other serious crimes.
The whole thing has been relatively spiced up by the fact that Bradacova wasn’t really in the good graces of the current coalition. Prime Minister Petr Necas [leader of the center-right Civic Democrats], for instance, suspected her, for unknown reasons, of working for the [opposition] Social Democrats because only people from the coalition have been investigated since the new supreme public prosecutor was appointed.
Frankly, despite all the wacky conspiracy theories, we have prosecutors and police who have now begun to work independently from political power and we have politicians – Interior Minister Jan Kubice and Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil – who have let them work in that fashion. Just a few months after the unfairly forgotten operation against bribery at the Roads and Motorways Directorate (where the main person accused was Michal Hala, a friend of both the Social Democrats and the governing Civic Democrats), we have another operation that snagged a really big fish.
These arrests mean more than some politically approved legislation against corruption (which, by the way, still reflects a weak performance from politicians). Let’s hope that now even the most powerful from the government or legislative bodies won’t feel so sure of themselves. At the same time, praise should go to Necas’ government for not attempting to interfere in the independence of the police and the prosecutors to the extent of previous governments, especially those of former prime ministers [Stanislav] Gross, [Jiri] Paroubek, and [Mirek] Topolanek.
Let’s believe that these are reflections of better times to come and let’s hope that the law, the only thing able to stop politicians, will no longer be bent, flouted, or scorned. It is a much more effective weapon than all the demonstrations that the unions are planning to organize [against government reforms].
Jaroslav Spurny is an editor at Respekt.
Leave Rath His Seat
by Erik Tabery
Miroslava Nemcova, chairwoman of the lower house of parliament, has called on David Rath to give up his seat. Even some of his party colleagues have voiced the same wish. Although that request sounds logical, it has its pitfalls.
Theories about a political and police conspiracy against Rath are absolutely groundless at this point, and most arguments that support such theories are even funny. Nevertheless, Rath has told the public that he is a victim of attempts to discredit him and it is necessary, even though it may be tough, to consider that. He is still an innocent man. From the perspective of the case’s investigators, Rath’s statements are undoubtedly ridiculous, because they have enough information and probably also evidence. From the perspective of the politicians, however, Rath’s claim shouldn’t have to be complete nonsense. Why? Because they don’t have sufficient information.
So far everything suggests that the work of the police and state prosecutor Lenka Bradacova has been very professional. Members of parliament should behave the same way. Let the mandate committee familiarize itself with the case and express itself; let the whole Chamber of Deputies express itself, and hand over Rath [for prosecution] or not hand him over. Then everything will go according to the rules and maybe the suspicion about some manipulated plot will disappear.
If he is handed over, then he should give up his seat, so as not to complicate the running of the Chamber of Deputies (he would otherwise still have the right to vote and receive a salary and other benefits).
This isn’t a case where a member of parliament causes a car accident (or anything like that) and immunity seems absurd at first view. This is much more serious. And we should approach it that way: on the one hand support the independence of the police and the state prosecutors and on the other hand protect the rights of the accused.
If Rath gives up his seat voluntarily, all the better, but he shouldn’t be forced into it. It is understandable that members of parliament, especially those from the Social Democrats, want to get rid of Rath. But they can probably hold themselves back for a few days.
Erik Tabery is the editor in chief of Respekt.