Controversial football boss released on bail

Jaroslav Starka, photo: CTK

Last November saw the dramatic arrest of controversial football boss Jaroslav Starka, in one of the most high-profile police operations the country has seen in recent years. In a carefully coordinated swoop, masked and armed commandos blocked and then surrounded Mr Starka's car as it made its way along a Czech motorway before taking the suspect into custody. Mr Starka had long been suspected of having ties with the underworld. He and a number of associates were arrested for the alleged kidnapping and subsequent death of Lambert Krejcir, the father of a Czech billionaire also wanted by the authorities. But on Tuesday, somewhat surprisingly, Jaroslav Starka was released, his lawyer having paid a hefty bail.

Jaroslav Starka,  photo: CTK
Jaroslav Starka was free to go on Tuesday after three months in custody. Shortly after five pm in the afternoon his lawyer - who had posted bail worth 8 million crowns - the equivalent of around 300,000 US dollars - picked up his client at Pankrac prison in Prague. The development may be surprising to some given the dramatic circumstances of Mr Starka's arrest only three months ago. Back in November his arrest was widely shown on TV, where masked officers, backed by a low-flying helicopter, surrounded Starka's car and subdued the football boss. Now, he is apparently in better spirits: a photo in one Czech daily shows Mr Starka and his lawyer clinking glasses of champagne.

Whether the controversial businessman ultimately has reason to celebrate is of course a question, but he at least claims that, despite his three month sojourn behind bars, the police have little evidence against him. All along he has maintained his innocence regarding the kidnapping of Lambert Krejcir, saying that he had no connection. In the past he also stated publicly that he was friends with Krejcir's son, Radovan, a Czech billionaire who fled the Czech Republic to avoid arrest for his own alleged criminal activities. It is thought his father's kidnapping was an attempt by suspects to blackmail the son for millions, all part of a complex web of blackmail, kidnapping, and murder that has come under extensive investigation by police.

Being freed on bail, Mr Starka has indicated, will now make all the difference: he is quoted as saying that "at last" he will be able to defend himself. Speaking to Wednesday's Mlada Fronta Dnes he describes his three months in a cell as an ordeal: one he'd clearly prefer not to repeat. He tells the daily that as a result it will be a while before he stops looking over his shoulder - referring to the helicopter and commando that moved in so quickly to secure his arrest.