Members of Czech gang arrested in Dominican Republic

The Czech police officer at the press conference in Prague, photo: CTK

Criminal investigators have revealed success in an operation at the weekend which led to the arrest of seven Czech nationals in the Dominican Republic. Wanted for various crimes including fraud and money laundering, the suspects, at least one of whom had been sought by the authorities as far back as 2003, is being seen as a major coup as well as a show of exemplary cooperation between the Dominican and Czech police.

Miloslav Votava,  photo: CTK
The police operation ‘Dominik’ was launched more than a year ago by Czech police, its aim to bring to justice members of a Czech gang that had put down roots in the Dominican Republic – suspected of everything from money laundering and financial fraud to violent sexual crime. Some of the wanted men – such as one of the main targets Miloslav Votava had already been found guilty and sentenced by Czech courts earlier (Mr Votava for fraud in the millions of crowns). Other suspects arrested include Pavel Štorkan, Michael Grundza and Jiří Štepánek: if they thought that in the Dominican Republic (which shares no extradition treaty with the Czech Republic) they were beyond the reach of justice, they were wrong. They have since been returned home.

At a police press conference in Prague on Tuesday, one of the officers involved – wearing gear including a black balaclava to conceal his identity – described the operation in greater detail:

“This almost unique operation originally focussed on learning the whereabouts of one of the members of the Berdych gang, Frantisek Hajny. He was located in the north of the Dominican Republic and arrested with the help of the Dominican police... Then we learned that there were more Czechs operating in the Dominican Republic, forming a community, some of whom had committed, or were committing serious crimes. Some had evaded justice already. The fact that the Czech and Dominican Republic share no extradition treaty was their basis for launching new activities.”

These included violent sexual crimes in the Dominican Republic while at home some are wanted for fraudulent financial schemes, bank hold ups and even murder. Miloslav Votava, for example, lived in the Dominican Republic, having stolen the identity of a drowned Austrian); his and the others’ unmasking and subsequent capture by Dominican police has since earned strong praise. The officer in the balaclava on Tuesday explained:

Czech police reveal details of operation 'Dominik',  photo: CTK
“I have to say we were pleasantly surprised by the high level of professionalism on the Dominican side and within a week we were able to get key information about individuals wanted by the Czech authorities as far back as 2003. We learned about people who had disappeared without a trace here and lived in the Dominican Republic under assumed identities. The operation was somewhat complicated by Hurricane Sandy which hit the area we were in after our arrival. But even under such difficult circumstances, over two or three critical days, the Dominican police were able to arrest two of the suspects.”

In fact, the search for members of the gang operating on Dominican territory is not over: had it not been for Sandy wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, another 13 suspects in more hard-to-get areas might already have been in custody. Czech police have gathered information about their whereabouts and have expressed the hope that those arrests, in further successful cooperation with the local authorities, have been delayed rather than thwarted.