Former supreme state attorney doesn’t have to apologise for “judicial mafia” claims

Marie Benešová, photo: CTK

The Czech judicial system is supposed to be waging war on criminals, but seems to be waging war on itself this week. The supreme state attorney Renata Vesecká lost a high-profile libel case against her predecessor Marie Benešová on Thursday, in a verdict that has cast new doubt on the long-running saga of the corruption allegations against deputy Prime Minister Jiří Čunek and placed the wobbly centre-right coalition under even more strain.

Vojtěch Cepl,  photo: CTK
It was late last year that Marie Benešová, former supreme state attorney, referred to her successor Renata Vesecká and a group of prosecutors and judges handling the Jiří Čunek case as a “judicial mafia.” Mrs Vesecká and her colleagues sued for libel. On Thursday, Prague’s Regional Court threw out the case, saying Mrs Benešová was basically correct, and had no reason to apologise for the remarks. Vojtěch Cepl, chief justice at Prague’s Regional Court.

“The court found that there was truth in what she said. She made the remarks in an unfortunately fashion and with a degree of exaggeration, but yes, there was bullying, misuse of delegation, and unjustified intervention in the Čunek case.”

Renata Vesecká,  photo: CTK
The court heard how documents were transported from one end of the country to another. Potentially incriminating evidence disappeared, apparently lost. Mrs Vesecká held a number of secret meetings with prosecutors involved in the case. At the same time, the charges against Mr Čunek were dropped, on two occasions. The original prosecutor assigned to the case testified that Mrs Vesecká and her colleagues had pressured her to drag out the proceedings, saying the government would fall if Mr Čunek was charged.

The opposition Social Democrats are calling for Mrs Vesecká to stand down immediately, as perhaps they would, sensing the government’s discomfort over the whole affair. Mrs Vesecká refuses to step down, saying she did nothing wrong and vows to appeal against the verdict. The justice minister and prime minister Mirek Topolánek have both stood by her. Mr Topolánek said Thursday’s verdict simply found Mrs Benešová – who is now a shadow justice minister for the Social Democrats - had no reason to apologise for her remarks, and was not a judgment on Mrs Vesecká guilt or innocence.

Marie Benešová,  photo: CTK
But worryingly for Mr Topolánek, it’s not just the Social Democrats who are now gunning for Renata Vesecká. The Greens – members of his coalition government – are also calling for her head. It was the Greens who were most disturbed at the corruption charges against Jiří Čunek, and the Greens who’ve had most difficulty swallowing his continued presence in the cabinet. The Vesecká libel case has once again brought the Čunek case into sharp focus, and placed an already fragile coalition under new strain.