Tatra CEO arrest raises questions about his accuser

Ronald Adams, photo: CTK

An unprecedented number of high-level corruption cases have been uncovered in the past months in the Czech Republic. Police and state attorneys appear to be investigating corruption charges brought to them with greater urgency. The arrest of Ronald Adams, the CEO of Czech truck maker Tatra this week, is the latest scandal, adding a new layer to an on-going investigation.

Ronald Adams,  photo: CTK
The Brno Police arrested Ronald Adams on Monday on bribery charges, but a municipal court ruled later the same day that Mr Adams was not a flight risk and did not need to be remanded in custody for the duration of the investigation.

Brno State Attorney Jan Petrásek is investigating Mr Adams on charges that in 2009 he offered a bribe in order to secure a military contract with the Czech Army. The main witnesses against him are former Defense Minister Martin Barták and arms dealer Michal Smrž. Yet, Mr Barták and Mr Smrž have themselves been under investigation since 2011, also in a bribery case surrounding the purchase of Tatra trucks for the military in 2008. It so happens that Mr Adams is one of three key witnesses in that case.

Radio Prague asked Janek Kroupa, an investigative journalist for the daily Mladá fronta Dnes, about the incongruities in this he-said-she-said situation:

“The weird part of the case is that Mr Barták was charged based on the testimonies of William Cabaniss, the former U.S. ambassador in Prague, and Duncan Sellars, another employee of Tatra. They claim that he [Mr Barták] met them in 2008 in the United States and approached them to ask for the money. And a year later, this meeting was supposed to happen, when Adams supposedly approached Barták with a proposal of a bribe. That’s the first strange aspect. The second strange part of this is that Mr Barták came up with this accusation against Mr Adams after he was accused himself. So, it was obviously part of Mr Barták’s defense. What we don’t know is why the police is acting on the one side against Mr Barták and on the other side against Mr Adams."

It is also important to note that the State Attorney in Ostrava who has been working on the Barták-Smrž case and that Mr Petrásek in Brno do not seem to be communicating about the evidence in the two closely-related cases.

Tatra spokesperson Vladimír Bystrov said that the case that is being brought against the head of the company is an attempt to discredit him as a witness.

Mr Adams appeared on Czech Television on Tuesday evening apparently confident in his innocence, maintaining that his arrest and the case being brought against him is an attempt to threaten him and possibly other witnesses in the Barták case.

I asked Vladimíra Dvořáková, a professor at Prague’s School of Economics and an expert on corruption, if she shared the same view:

“In the case of Mr. Barták, it’s not only the Tatra case that he is connected with. It also happened several other times that someone who gave evidence against him or was a witness was later investigated by the police. So, it seems this is a way of preventing other people from speaking about corruption or to give information to the police. And I think this is the main reason why Mr. Adamson was also investigated by the police.”

Although the first court hearings in Mr Bárták’s case may start in a couple of months, the layers of all the unexplained deals of some Czech politicians and their business partners may prove to be hard to uncover. Ms Dvořáková attested to the deeply rooted corruption in Czech politics:

“I think the case of Mr Barták or the other cases that are now investigated really give the evidence that high politics is very much connected with corruption.”