Saturday, 20 October 2018

Committee: MPs should not release ex-mayor for prosecution

ČTK |
24 January 2018

Prague, Jan 23 (CTK) - The Czech lower house mandate and immunity committee recommended on Tuesday that the house's plenary session should not release former Prague mayor Bohuslav Svoboda (Civic Democrats, ODS) for prosecution in the case of the Opencard project of a smart e-card for Praguers.

The plenary session will discuss the release of Svoboda, and also ANO deputy Pavel Ruzicka, suspected of breach of trust in his capacity as the mayor of Postoloprty, north Bohemia, and whose release the committee did not recommend either on Tuesday, on Wednesday afternoon.

The committee's decision was conveyed to CTK by its chairman Stanislav Grospic (Communists, KSCM) and its rapporteur on the case, Petr Gazdik (Mayors and Independents, STAN).

Svoboda faces an appeals trial. A first-instance court imposed a suspended sentence on him.

The police suspect Svoboda and other former Prague councillors of breach of trust and of economic competition rules within the city's Opencard project.

The project was launched by the City Hall under Pavel Bem (ODS), Svoboda's predecessor in the post of Prague mayor in 2002-2010. While underway, it came under criticism as heavily overpriced.

In the previous election term, the Chamber of Deputies released Svoboda for prosecution. In 2016, a court imposed a suspended 2.5-year sentence on him, but Svoboda appealed the verdict, which therefore did not take effect.

Re-elected to the Chamber of Deputies in October 2017, Svoboda regained a deputy's immunity.

If the Chamber's plenary session follows the committee's recommendation and does not release Svoboda, his trial could be resumed only after his deputy's mandate expires.

Gazdik said the committee tried to find out whether the police request for Svoboda's prosecution is politically motivated.

"In this case, it is politically motivated because it [Opencard project] was a decision of a collective body," Gazdik told reporters.

Svoboda did not use it to enrich himself. He made the [controversial] decision [on the continuation of Opencard] because he was forced to do so as a member of a collective body. He had to decide in this way, otherwise he would have caused damage to the capital Prague, Gazdik said, referring to the City Hall's additional decisions on Opencard when the project was underway.

Svoboda said he will vote for being released. As a political decision, the Opencard project cannot be challenged in court. Political decisions are not purely economic, but their contribution to the population must also be taken into account, he said.

"A decision making on whether to waste [the city's] billion crowns by instantly scrapping Opencard, or whether to try to save the project is very hard. I am convinced that we decided correctly in political terms," Svoboda said on behalf of the former City Council.

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