Highly anticipated corruption trial of MP David Rath to begin on Wednesday

David Rath, Photo: Filip Jandourek

The most closely watched court case in the country’s modern history is due to begin on Wednesday. MP David Rath, former governor of central Bohemia and, before his fall from grace, one of the most influential members of the opposition Social Democratic Party is to stand trial for corruption. The MP, who faces up to 12 years in jail, says he is not expecting justice.

David Rath, Photo: Filip Jandourek
News of the arrest of MP and central Bohemian governor David Rath 15 months ago exploded on the Czech political scene like a bombshell. It was the first high-profile corruption arrest in Czech politics and although others soon followed, Rath remains the biggest catch in the government’s anti-corruption crusade.

The former central Bohemian governor who was caught red-handed with seven million crowns of alleged bribe money stuffed in a wine box was arrested on the spot, something the police can only do to someone with parliamentary immunity if they catch them in the act of breaking the law. He and ten other people were charged with giving and taking bribes, harming the financial interests of the EU, and manipulating public tenders. The seven million crowns with which the MP was caught was allegedly a bribe for the manipulation of an order for the reconstruction of a chateau in Buštehrad, central Bohemia, but Mr. Rath is believed to have collected much more, allegedly for manipulating tenders for the purchase of health equipment for three central Bohemian hospitals, one of which was run by a woman with whom he had a long-standing relationship. The group of ten people around the former governor have also been charged with an attempt to gain about 300 million crowns from European subsidies. Altogether, the case against Mr. Rath took 15 months to prepare, throughout which time the MP remained in jail, refusing to relinquish his mandate and repeatedly asking for bail which was rejected on the grounds that he might flee the country.

MF Dnes 26/7/2012
He has spent that time preparing his defence, drafting bills and writing a book. One of the most vocal politicians from the opposition benches is not likely to hold back in court in defending his reputation and the Social Democrats have reason to fear what line of defence he may take. The MP, whom the party has publicly condemned, maintains that he is innocent of the charges against him and any money that passed through his hands was sponsors’ gifts for the Social Democrats. Any proof he may have of this would seriously damage the Social Democrats ahead of next year’s general elections.

However, for the time being Mr. Rath has restricted himself to firing accusations at state attorneys and the judge who is to preside over the case. In an interview for Monday’s edition of Mlada fronta Dnes, Mr. Rath said he feared for the fate of democracy in a country where the police and judiciary were “out of control” and usurping power. Massive wiretappings, spying and spectacular police operations were the result of the former prime minister Petr Nečas’ anti-corruption crusade, which went out of control and in time turned against Nečas’ own government, Rath said, claiming that he had fallen victim to an orchestrated and well-prepared political smear campaign and did not expect justice.

Mr. Rath may not be expecting justice but with a 12-year jail sentence hanging over his head he will desperately fight for freedom and is unlikely to care who he brings down with him.