Court rules ex-MPs' alleged bribe taking covered by immunity

Marek Šnajdr, photo: CTK

One plank of a major police investigation that led to the recent fall of the government of Petr Nečas has ground to a halt. Following a Supreme Court ruling that their actions were covered by parliamentary immunity, three former MPs from Mr. Nečas’s Civic Democrats will not now stand trial for bribe taking. But where does the ruling leave the former prime minister himself?

Marek Šnajdr,  photo: CTK
Late on Tuesday night, erstwhile Civic Democrat MPs Petr Tluchoř, Marek Šnajdr and Ivan Fuksa emerged from prison gates clutching carrier bags as they were released from custody after over a month behind bars.

Last year, the three rejected tax changes proposed by the Nečas government, threatening to bring it down. However, before a vote could be held the rebels quit the Chamber of Deputies, allowing the cabinet to survive. Soon afterwards, they received high-paying positions at semi-state companies.

In June, scores of police officers raided the Office of the Government and other premises as part of an extensive and multipronged investigation. Among those swept up were the three former deputies, who were accused of bribe taking in connection with the “jobs for the boys” and held on remand.

Jana Nagyová,  photo: Czech Television
Also charged was Jana Nagyová, Mr Nečas’s chief of staff and partner. State prosecutors said she had mediated the deal with the rebels on behalf of the prime minister. She also faces charges of ordering military intelligence chiefs to spy on his now-estranged wife. Her situation made Mr Nečas’s position untenable and he quit, causing the government to fall.

While Ms. Nagyová and some others are still in custody, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the three former MPs could not be tried in connection with the alleged bribe taking.

The reason? Their actions were said to have taken place inside the Chamber of Deputies, where “statements” are covered by parliamentary immunity. Some regard this as a rather loose interpretation of the constitution.

The court, whose decision cannot be challenged, only considered the issue of immunity and the question of the ex-deputies’ culpability or otherwise was not examined. Nevertheless, it would seem that little action can now be taken against them.

The ruling also has implications for Mr. Nečas, with state attorney Ivo Ištvan announcing that his office would drop a call for the lower house to lift the former PM’s immunity so he could be investigated over the alleged bribery.

Mr. Nečas is not off the hook as the immunity ruling does not relate to him. But it is unclear how much, if any, of a case he may eventually have to answer.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
Many commentators have expressed frustration with Tuesday’s news, which they say will not satisfy the public and reflects chaos in the legal system.

The court ruling is also seen as a setback for the country’s state attorneys, who in recent times have been making more visible attempts to tackle corruption in high places.