Czech prosecutors drop demand to charge ex-PM as their case falters

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 16, 2013 5:55 PM
Czech prosecutors drop demand to charge ex-PM as their case falters

By Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech prosecutors dropped on Tuesday their demand that parliament allows prosecution of former Prime Minister Petr Necas after a court struck down main parts of their bribery case that helped topple the country's government last month.

The decision is a big blow to prosecutors in the case in which eight people, including a close aide to Necas, have been charged, some with bribery and others with illegal surveillance of people including the prime minister's wife.

The Supreme Court ruled earlier on Tuesday that three former deputies who have been charged with corruption for accepting posts at state companies in return for dropping a rebellion against Necas last year were covered by parliamentary immunity.

Prosecutors had also asked parliament to vote on allowing Necas be charged in the same case, but dropped that demand after the court ruling, prosecutor Ivo Istvan said on Czech Television.

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.

"Nobody can be prosecuted until the situation surrounding the extent of immunity is resolved," Istvan said.

The Czech constitution bans any prosecution of deputies for voting or other political expressions 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, but the Supreme Court did not agree.

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

Istvan said his office may ask the court to clarify the boundaries of the parliamentary immunity to define whether the officials could still be charged if they committed the suspected crime outside parliament.

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.

Nacas'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 in the NATO member country to spy on Necas's wife, with whom he is divorcing. A lawyer for Nagyova said she acted in good faith.

Two intelligence service chiefs face charges for arranging the surveillance although they were not supposed to take any orders from Nagyova.

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