Prosecution of former Communist prosecutor suspended

Karel Vas, photo CTK

The Supreme Court in Prague on Tuesday halted legal proceedings against a former Communist prosecutor, charged for his role in the execution of a senior Czechoslovak army officer after the war. Karel Vas had been accused of ordering the death penalty for General Heliodor Pika, in a show trial back in 1949, but as Alena Skodova reports, he will not end up in prison.

Karel Vas, photo CTK
During WW II General Heliodor Pika cooperated closely with the Czechoslovak anti-fascist resistance movement abroad. In spring 1941 he accepted an important post which later proved to be fatal for him. He became head of the Czechoslovak military mission in the Soviet Union, and his job was immensely difficult: he had to respect the demands of the Czechoslovak authorities in exile in London while at the same time meeting the needs of the Soviet military and civil authorities.

It was then that the first suspicions against him were raised. When the Communists seized power in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, they were only too willing to exploit those suspicions. General Pika was falsely accused of disclosing information which threatened Czechoslovakia's defence capability to the British Intelligence Service. Following a show trial, he was executed on June 21st 1949.

Karel Vas, who is now 85 years old, was the main prosecutor in the show trial. Three years ago he was accused of General Pika's murder, but he will not go to prison. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court in Prague stopped Mr. Vas's prosecution. That despite the fact that the court's judges agreed with their colleagues from the Municipal Court, who found last June that Karel Vas broke the law several times during the trial of General Pika. The Municipal court ruled then that Vas had breached the principle of presumption of innocence and played the largest role in sentencing Pika to death.

Karel Vas, photo CTK
Although Vas was sentenced to 7 years' imprisonment, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the Municipal Court had used the wrong law when it sentenced him: it should have used a military penal law from 1855, which was still valid in Czechoslovakia in the 1940s. According to this law, Vas's prosecution became barred under the statute of limitations in 1994.

In his final speech in court on Tuesday, Vas said that in 1949 he had followed the laws of the time and described the current proceedings against him as politically motivated. He also said that the Supreme Court had suspended his prosecution instead of freeing him merely in order to retain its prestige. "I insist I'm absolutely innocent," a defiant Karel Vas told the press.