Czech court deals blow to prosecutors in graft scandal

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 16, 2013 2:32 PM
Czech court deals blow to prosecutors in graft scandal

By Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE (Reuters) - A Czech court struck down on Tuesday the main part of charges against two former deputies involved in a bribery scandal that toppled the Czech government last month, weakening the prosecution case.

The Supreme Court ruled that the former deputies, in custody pending investigation of accepting posts at state companies in return for dropping a rebellion against Prime Minister Petr Necas last year, were covered by parliamentary immunity.

The decision is a blow to prosecutors in the case in which eight people, including three former members of parliament and a close aide to Necas, have been charged, some with bribery and others with illegal surveillance.

The scandal, part of a wider investigation of graft, forced Necas to quit in June and threw the Central European country into a political crisis which could last for months as political parties squabble with President Milos Zeman over the appointment of a new government.

"The Supreme Court ruled to exempt them (the deputies) from the authority of prosecuting bodies. It is related to parliamentary immunity," court spokesman Petr Knoetig said.

The Czech constitution bans any prosecution of deputies for voting or other political acts in parliament. For other actions, immunity may be lifted by parliament, and expires with the end of a deputy's mandate - which is what prosecutors thought applied in this case.

It was not immediately clear if prosecutors would drop the case altogether or would continue prosecuting the deputies on a narrower basis.

"The ruling as we are interpreting it does not exclude prosecution," state attorney Ivo Istvan said on Czech Television. He gave no details.

A collapse of the case would weaken the prosecutors who have in the past two years shown a growing appetite to go after graft which Czechs believe is widespread in political circles.

Necas's aide Jana Nagyova, with whom the former prime minister has a relationship, was charged with arranging the deal with three deputies. They gave up their parliamentary seats, allowing Necas to push through a key piece of legislation they were opposed to. Two of them later got posts at state companies.

Nagyova also faces charges of illegally asking military intelligence chiefs to spy on Necas's wife, with whom he is divorcing. A lawyer for Nagyova said she acted in good faith.

Prosecutors have also asked parliament to lift the immunity of Necas, so he could be charged, in relation to the bribery investigation. The parliament may vote on Necas on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Michael Roddy)