New TI study finds bribery during road checks most common form of corruption that gets prosecuted

Photo: Honza Ptáček

A new study by the Czech branch of the anti-corruption group Transparency International looks at how Czech courts deal with bribery. The study, which analyzed some 250 bribery-related cases over the last three years, follows up a similar analysis from three years ago, and suggests that some improvement has been made. One of the authors of the study, Martin Novák, says that by the far the highest number of bribery cases that made it to court relate to police road checks.

Photo: Honza Ptáček
“We have to differentiate between active and passive bribery. Active bribery is very common during police road checks when drivers offer bribes to police officers. But passive bribery is much more varied: there are cases of simple bribe taking during bureaucratic processes or in public procurement, or even case involving members of Parliament.”

Do you consider this good news that the largest share of these acts occur during road checks, and are minor and perhaps socially not so dangerous?

“I’m not sure if it’s good news. First of all, these are very common situations. Also the bribes are offered to police officers who could be expected to have higher moral standards. So there is much higher probability that the officer will report such illegal conduct. Police officers are also under much tighter supervision – by their superiors and by the police inspection – so they could be reporting these cases out of fear.”

Are there many cases of the actual police officers tried for having accepted bribes?

“This is quite interesting: in the previous study, we registered many such cases but in this report, there is none. We don’t know why; there is no logical reason for it. You have to ask the police inspection about this.”

As I understand it, the other area where bribery is very common is local and regional administration. Is that correct?

“Yes, it is. But these are only prosecuted cases so the real situation could be different.”

When it comes to the way courts deal with corruption and bribery cases in the Czech Republic: in your previous study which covered the period of 2007-2009, you said that courts failed in dealing with these cases. Has the situation improved?

Martin Novák,  photo: Transparency International
“It has. In procedural issues, there has been some serious improvement in the use of wiretaps. In the previous study, we noted there was a problem with the legality of wiretaps but that has been fixed. We have also seen a slight improvement in sentencing. The scope of sentences and sanctions has become much wider, and alternative punishments are now also used much more frequently than before.”

What role in this does the new penal code play which came into force in 2010?

“First, let me say the new penal code is a really modern codex of penal law and it’s very good legislation. But as far as bribery is concerned, its influence has not been great because bribery-related legislation has been here for some 15 years now so the difference between how bribery can be punished then and now is not very significant.”

So what has brought about the improvement in courts’ rulings you mentioned?

“Well, it’s not all about legislation, it’s also about public opinion and pressure which is something judges take into account. There has also been pressure to use alternative punishment for white-collar crimes which might be one of the reasons why the scope of sanctions is wider than before.”

Speaking of legislation, the study says that Czech law does not sufficiently sanction “indirect bribery”. What does it mean?

“Indirect bribery is a legal term; with regular bribery, you offer a bribe or you accept it. But indirect bribery means you offer a bribe to someone who can influence some other person with authority. That’s typical for lobbyists and organized crime, and these cases often go unpunished or the sentences are very low. Prison sentences for example are very rare in such cases.”

Most of the cases you analyzed are those of the so-called “small corruption”. But we have seen some high-profile cases prosecuted although many have not yet been closed. Do you see a change here?

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“Well, the cases you mention were not included in the study but I think they do suggest that things have changed. For one, it seems that prosecution is more independent. The problem is that you cannot predict whether this tendency will continue because it to a great extent depends on politicians; the government is now discussing a very important bill on prosecution and a lot will depend on its fate.”

The bill you mentioned would, among other things, establish a special office that would only prosecute corruption. There has been some debate about whether this is a good idea – what do you think?

“I think it’s a great idea. Many countries – in western Europe but also some post-communist countries – have very good experiences with a special office dedicated to prosecuting corruption; in Slovenia and Estonia, for instance, these bodies have very good results.

“A lot will depend on the exact form of such an office, and on who will appoint its head, but it can work. You see, especially the more serious corruption cases are very difficult to prosecute. You need to have an excellent knowledge of the legislation, you need to know how to use police techniques to acquire as much evidence as you can, and so on. So you need professionals to deal with these cases.”

And finally, are there any estimates of how much corruption there is that goes unprosecuted?

“I can’t really give any accurate estimate. But bribery is one of the most wide-spread white-collar crimes and there is a huge latency. Only a small part of these cases are actually prosecuted.”