President Klaus appeals to Greek counterpart over two Czechs jailed on espionage charges

Martin Pezlar, Ivan Buchta, photo: Lidové noviny 21.11.2012

Czech President Václav Klaus has weighed in on the case of two Czech nationals held in Greece on espionage charges. The two men, both professional video game developers, were arrested in September on the Greek island of Lemnos after they took photos of local military installations. But they say they were only collecting material for a new game. Mr Klaus has now appealed to the president of Greece, asking him to follow the case with special attention.

Martin Pezlar,  Ivan Buchta,  photo: Lidové noviny 21.11.2012
Arma III is an upcoming realistic war-style video game set on the Greek islands of Lemnos and Ai Stratis. Czech developers Martin Pezlar and Ivan Buchta spent two years working on it and in September they travelled to Lemnos to – they said – collect more reference material. But on Sunday, September 9, they were arrested by the police and charged with espionage soon thereafter.

According to the Greek media, they had all sorts of special equipment on them including night-vision goggles, and were asking about troop numbers and other details. But Ondřej Bouda, who reported on the case for Czech Radio’s station Radiožurnál, had a chance to see their file and says the investigation did not confirm any of that.

“The file disproves a lot of the initial claims and speculation. They had no night vision goggles. According to a list of things they had on them when they were arrested, they had a laptop, an ipad, a camera – things that any tourist would take with them. But they did take pictures. I think there are 14 photos in the file of military installations.”

The two men, who work for the renowned Czech game developer Bohemia Interactive, say they were only taking photos to make sure the game’s visuals were realistic. However, the Greek authorities did not believe them and a full-scale investigation of their activities was launched.

Lemnos,  photo: Phelim123,  CC 3.0 license
The photos seem to be the main evidence against the Czechs. Recently, however, a new witness has appeared in the case. The authorities have not released his identity or any details of his testimony but Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg who has been informed said it certainly complicated the men’s position. Czech Radio’s Ondřej Bouda says the file also contains reports warning the local authorities on the island of the men’s arrival.

“One of the papers, addressed to the authorities in Lemnos, says that the men will arrive on a given date, it says where they will stay and when they will depart. This was sent to the officials ahead of their arrival which means someone was preparing for this. The obvious conclusion is that this is secret service material.”

On Wednesday, Czech President Václav Klaus made an appeal on the men’s behalf to his Greek counterpart, Karolos Papoulias. Mr Klaus asked the Greek president to pay special attention to the case, expressing at the same time his belief the Greek authorities will act independently and impartially. The men’s Czech attorney, Dagmar Raupachová, says Mr Klaus’ intervention might be very important.

“I think that it can really help in the sense that the ongoing proceedings will be absolutely lawful. The interest in the case by Czech officials will at least eliminate any potential, and let me stress this again, potential irregularities.”

Václav Klaus,  photo: archive of the Czech Government
Last month, a Greek court rejected the men’s bail plea. But Ms Raupachová expects the investigation to conclude in the coming days which means they could be released soon afterwards. Under Greek law, however, they could spend up to 18 months in custody awaiting trial. If convicted of espionage, the game developers would face a maximum 20-year-prison sentence.