State attorney unveils fresh evidence in high-profile corruption case

Ivo Ištvan, photo: Czech Television

State Attorney Ivo Ištvan, who set in motion the corruption case that brought down the centre-right coalition government, but failed to get the three former MPs at the centre of the scandal in the dock, is not letting the matter rest. With fresh evidence in hand, he is pushing for the Supreme Court to define where parliamentary immunity begins and ends.

Ivo Ištvan, photo: Czech Television
The case against three former Civic Democrat MPs who were accused of bribe taking, after giving up their mandates in return for lucrative positions in state-controlled firms, hit the rocks when the Supreme Court ruled that their actions were covered by parliamentary immunity. The ruling was based on the argument that the tit-for-tat deal, which allowed the government to survive, was made on the grounds of Parliament.

The court’s interpretation of the Constitution came under fire from several constitutional lawyers and sparked debate on how far protection afforded by parliamentary immunity could be stretched. A clear answer to that question would set an important precedent, potentially put at risk other deputies and in the long-term change the way politics is conducted in the Czech Republic. While the Civic Democrats argue that perks are part of the daily horse-trading that is an inherent part of politics anywhere in the world, state attorneys counter that there is a vast difference between wheeling and dealing that ends in political compromise and wheeling and dealing for personal profit. Commentator Vladimíra Dvořáková fully agrees with this view.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“Corruption is when I make a political decision from which I will gain personal profit – it can be money or a good post in public service or a very good post in a private firm after voting or deciding in a way that would help this private firm. So it is about what motivates my decision – whether it is an attempt to find a political compromise, to take into account the position of the others, or whether there is a private interest involved and I make a decision because it will bring me personal advantage.”

Olomouc state attorney Ivo Ištvan, who masterminded the high-level corruption case from the start, has now sent the Supreme Court fresh evidence pointing to the fact that the deal under which the three deputies agreed to vacate their mandates for more loyal party deputies in return for lucrative posts in state-controlled companies was not made on parliament ground only, but at several other venues including the lobbies of hotels and the Office of the Government. He has asked the court to say whether such behavior outside Parliament premises is also covered by parliamentary immunity. If the court should rule that it does not, the state attorney is ready to press new charges against all three former mps as well as against the former prime minister, Petr Nečas, who allegedly solicited the bribes.

Whatever the outcome, the ruling should bring the Czech Republic closer to a tighter definition of the term parliamentary immunity and indicate what is and what is not acceptable in politics –something state attorneys are clearly pushing for in their crusade against corruption. Many politicians now argue that while some aspects of political horse-trading are ethically unacceptable they do not violate the law. Whether they do or not depends on how the constitution is interpreted and as in many other cases the Czech Constitution allows for dual or varied interpretations. So do we need a change of the law? Vladimíra Dvořáková thinks not.

Vladimíra Dvořáková, photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“You know I do not think that the problem is in the law itself because parliamentary immunity as such is quite important. But the question we need to ask ourselves is: why do MPs need parliamentary immunity? And the reason is clear - to give them the freedom to speak freely, to vote freely and so on. But when the law on immunity was passed no one for a minute considered the idea that it was to enable members of parliament to take bribes. That was not the goal. And the problem in this society is that we are too ready to accept the interpretation of the law as presented by lawyers. Everyone says this is not specifically banned so it is possible. But no one ask themselves - what is the purpose of this law?”