"Mafia boss" Berdych and gang appear in court
They're calling it one of the biggest cases in Czech criminal history. Alleged mafia boss David Berdych and 35 members of his gang were marched into a Prague court on Wednesday to stand trial for a total of 34 crimes including armed robbery, kidnapping and murder.
The gang's speciality was dressing up as members of elite police unit - wearing balaclavas and even carrying police weapons - and robbing rich businessmen. Often businessmen were kidnapped and held in remote cottages and beaten until they agreed to pay up. Another of the gang's specialities was dressing up as traffic policemen and stopping lorry drivers, who they then kidnapped and dumped in the middle of a forest after making off with the goods.
David Berdych and his colleagues had cultivated close links with the Czech police. Five of the gang are former policemen, three of them detectives. Prosecutors say the former police officers were even believed to have thought up some of the most brutal crimes themselves.
With 36 defendants and 34 crimes, the trial is expected to last several months. The court is expected to call more than a hundred witnesses, for crimes going back ten years. Several of the accused - including David Berdych himself - have already been convicted of other crimes. The fate of the millions of crowns prosecutors believe the gang earned is for the most part unknown: Berdych and his alleged mafiosi seem to have done a very good job of hiding it.