Authorship of presidential amnesty still unclear

Photo: Filip Jandourek

A broad amnesty declared in January by outgoing president Václav Klaus continues to cause controversy. It remains unclear who authored the final draft of the amnesty which, among other things, threw out cases involving alleged large-scale corruption. Now a one-time aide to Mr. Klaus is saying the Justice Ministry is responsible. However, it strongly denies the allegation.

Václav Klaus,  photo: archive of the Czech Government
Václav Klaus probably imagined his 10-year presidency would end differently. However, his amnesty proved extremely unpopular with Czechs, while the Senate even filed high treason charges against him.

Releasing prisoners on short sentences has undoubtedly eased overcrowding in Czech jails. But a more controversial aspect of the amnesty was the halting of the prosecution of several hundred cases running for more than eight years, including some high-profile cases of alleged corruption dating back to the 1990s.

Neither President Klaus nor his associates have ever convincingly justified this particular decision, and refused to specify who exactly wrote it. That has lead to broad speculation about the amnesty having been tailored to benefit some of those prosecuted for corruption and fraud.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
The controversy surrounding the amnesty has not settled down even with the appointment of Miloš Zeman as president two months ago. His chief of staff last week named three alleged authors of the document: Mr Klaus’s former aides Ladislav Jakl, Petr Hájek and Pavel Hasenkopf.

In a newspaper interview on Thursday, Mr Hasenkopf said he had indeed prepared the draft. But, he says, the final version, including the scope of the disputed abolition, came from the Justice Ministry. For his part, Justice Minister Pavel Blažek strongly denies such allegations.

“I absolutely rule this out. Neither I as minister nor anybody else from the ministry were ever asked for assistance in this case – with one exception. In October, President Klaus asked me for the numbers of people serving sentences for several types of crime. I gave him these figures, and that was that.”

Minister Blažek has also threatened to sue Mr Hasenkopf over his remarks, a move that some believe could actually reveal who the authors of the amnesty were. Ondřej Kundra is the chief political reporter for the weekly Respekt.

Pavel Blažek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“If it turned out that part of the amnesty was designed to halt the prosecution of some influential people and the authors of the amnesty benefited from this, it would be important to know the details. If their motives were corrupt, they should be brought to justice. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the president and the prime minister [who countersigned it].”

One person who could help settle the matter is the former president himself. Václav Klaus has in fact published a collection of documents about the controversial amnesty, and says he has never regretted his decision. But he has never spoken about who drafted the amnesty that considerably undermined his legacy.