Justice ministry under fire for role in Qatari prince case

Le prince du Qatar Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, photo: MFDnes, 31.5.05

Just under three years ago, Qatari prince Hamid Bin Abdul Sani al-Thani was found guilty of sexually abusing young girls in the Czech Republic. Despite protests from within the judiciary, he was extradited to Qatar, where all charges against him were eventually dropped. Three years on, the question of whether to try him again in absentia has once more been raised, amidst criticism of the justice ministry’s role in the affair.

‘An international disgrace’ for the Czech judicial system is how the case of Qatari prince Hamid Bin Abdul Sani al-Thani has been described. Just under three years ago, the Qatari dignitary was arrested in the Czech Republic, accused of sexually abusing 16 young girls, four of whom were under 15. The prince was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but the justice ministry intervened. Then justice minister Pavel Němec said that the case had cast a shadow over Qatari-Czech relations, and lobbied hard to have the prince extradited to his homeland and tried there. Mr al-Thani was sent back to Qatar, where all charges against him were eventually dropped. He spent just over two months of his two-and-a-half year sentence in prison.

Current justice minister Jiří Pospíšil has announced that he is drafting reforms to make sure that such a breach of justice never happens again. But shadow justice minister, Marie Benešová, doesn’t think that new laws are necessary:

“We just need to adhere strictly to the rules that have always been there, and that all other justice ministers have followed in the past. That means that it should be up to the judge, and not the justice ministry, whether a suspect is extradited or not. The justice ministry is just there to be an intermediary, not to overrule the courts. It is interesting that previously, this was always the case - the courts were left to decide, and after this case, it was left up to the courts again. So the case of the Qatari prince was a one-off deviation from the normal practice.”

The district judge for Prague 2, Monika Křikavová, said at the time that the justice ministry put pressure upon her to approve the prince’s extradition. She reiterated these claims recently on Czech Television:

“Proof can be found in the case file. There are recordings there of conversations that employees of the justice ministry had with either me or one of the other employees at the district court. People approached us with messages from the justice ministry, which was uncharacteristically active at the beginning of this court case.”

Mrs Křikavová called the justice ministry’s intervention at the time ‘unconstitutional’. Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil has promised to investigate these claims and take appropriate measures.

But what of the Qatari prince himself? Mr. Pospíšil has said that the case is not closed, and it is up to the Czech courts to decide whether they want to pursue Mr al-Thani’s case in his absence or not. If found guilty again of the crimes, it is unlikely that Mr al-Thani will spend even another day in prison, but he could find himself unable to travel anywhere in the European Union for fear of arrest.