"Mafia boss" Berdych and gang appear in court

Photo: CTK

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.

David Berdych,  photo: CTK
The Czech Republic is generally a pretty placid place, but under that peaceful exterior is a seedy world of criminal gangs, corrupt policemen and brutal crimes. At the top of the heap is - or rather was until recently - one David Berdych, who allegedly commanded a 35-man criminal gang responsible for kidnapping, robbing and in several cases killing businessmen. Several policemen were involved in the gang.

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.

Photo: CTK
Members of the gang certainly look the part, and it might be only matter of time before some canny Czech film director turns the story into a feature film. Many are bodybuilders and former bouncers, with big biceps, closely cropped hair and menacing faces. There were so many of them in court on Wednesday some of their lawyers had to stand because there was no room on the benches.

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.