Czech president sparks outrage with controversial pardon

Miloš Balák

Czech President Miloš Zeman made headlines on Tuesday after pardoning the former head of the Lány Forestry Administration, Miloš Balák. The man, a direct subordinate of the president’s head of office, recently got a three-year sentence and a CZK 1.8 million fine for manipulating a CZK 200 million public tender.

Mr Zeman’s decision to pardon the former head of the Lány Forestry Administration, which is under the presidential office, sparked outrage among politicians and legal experts.

According to President Zeman’s spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček, the president took Mr Balák’s “integrity and diligence” into consideration and came to the conclusion that it was apparently not the nature of the crime that was decisive for his conviction, but rather the place where he works.

Constitutional law expert Jan Kysela was one of the many public figures who condemned the president’s decision. In an interview for Czech Radio, he described his reasoning as shocking, adding that it went against the elementary principles of the rule of law:

“When a public figure introduces arguments of this type into his procedural defence, he or she logically undermines the authority of the rule of law.

“It gives the ordinary citizens an impression that everything is different than it appears at first sight, that it is all an illusion, and that in reality it is personal and political ties that make a difference.”

Miloš Zeman | Photo: Czech Television

Prior to his election in 2013, President Zeman said he would only grant pardons in very exceptional cases and transferred the power to conduct clemency reviews to the minister of justice. However, the Ministry of Justice was not involved in the case at all.

Despite what critics call blunt abuse of the power of clemency and of the country’s judicial system as such, Jan Kysela is sceptical that anything can be done about it:

“We would probably have to refer to some more general principles that are embedded in the notion of a democratic state governed by the rule of law, which the Czech Republic declares itself to be in Article One of the Constitution. Those principles of the democratic rule of law imply, among other things, the prohibition of arbitrariness.”

Ondřej Kundra, a journalist for the weekly Respekt, shares Mr Kysela’s outrage but also says that in a sense Mr Zeman’s decision has not come as a surprise:

“Prague Castle has long operated in a mafia-like manner, and this is just one aspect of the overall situation. The president has not cared for his citizens in the long term and has not applied the same criteria to them.”

Meanwhile, Mr Balák is also facing charges in connection with the mining of stone in the Lány game park. Mr Kundra says that in view of the president’s latest action, the law enforcement authorities will likely not rush the investigation and wait for the president’s term to run out.