After seven years of investigation, the trial of former prime minister and ANO chairman Andrej Babiš began at the Prague Municipal Court. How demanding are political cases of such caliber for justice officials?
Guest I’m asking Igor Stříž was the supreme prosecutor.
The Prague Municipal Court has been besieged by journalists since Monday. And no wonder. After seven years of investigation, the trial of the former prime minister and chairman of the ANO movement, Andrej Babiš, began there.
Andrej Babiš faces an indictment for subsidy fraud. Just like his former advisor and current candidate for ANO in the Senate, Jana Mayerová (Nagyová). She is also suspected of damaging the financial interests of the European Union.
The prosecution of Babiš and Mayerová was stopped in September 2019. But in December 2019, the then head of prosecutors, Pavel Zeman, canceled the decision. Since then, further investigations have been ongoing. In March 2022, Jaroslav Šaroch finally announced that he had filed an indictment with the Municipal Court in Prague.
The Sparrow’s Nest case has become notorious over the years. It is also interesting because the supervising prosecutor initially stopped the criminal prosecution and only after the intervention of the supreme prosecutor sent the former prime minister and his colleague to court.
How demanding are political cases of such caliber for justice officials? Why do they usually drag on so much? And will the plan for the amendment of the prosecutor’s office help?
You can play the entire interview in an audio player, in your favorite podcast app or in a video.
What was said in the conversation?
1:00 a.m – I have repeatedly explained to my colleagues that we have tens of thousands of cases that are ordinary crimes, but we also have several types of cases that affect politics, sports or business and arouse social interest. They are more visible, and the public evaluates us for them. I wouldn’t call it political causes, but if it’s a public figure, it attracts attention. I explain to my colleagues that they too must pay more attention to this. Not that they should be more precise, but they should consider more steps ahead and be able to explain their steps. They should mainly be prepared to explain their final decision to the public – to focus on the media side of things as well.
2:00 a.m – Jaroslav Šaroch is a supervisory public prosecutor, he became that thanks to some internal procedures, the responsibility now lies with him. In proceedings before the court, it has a simplified explanatory role, because as a party to the prosecution, it certainly has standard procedures. He will certainly express himself during the closing speech. There is no longer such a requirement for transparency, because the proceedings are public and everyone can draw their own picture. There, the role of the public prosecutor is easier.
4:00 a.m – Last February, state prosecutor Šarocha was punished by the disciplinary panel of the Supreme Administrative Court for delays and inaction in two of his other cases. Jaroslav Šaroch himself acknowledged the mistake. Is it appropriate for him to supervise a case such as Čapí hnízdo, a person whom the Supreme Administrative Court’s panel declares to have “endangered trust in the public prosecutor’s office”? The case is sensitive and the dog is buried in it. It requires different procedures than other cases that do not get the camera lights. Mr. Šaroch’s procedures were reviewed with the result you indicated. I think that the city prosecutor’s office could have tried to replace the supervising prosecutor, but considering the specificity of the case, the unique person of the accused, this procedure might not be appropriate. It could give rise to speculation about the transparency of such a procedure. With all the misconduct that accompanied the case, it is good that it was overseen by a single public prosecutor the entire time.
6:00 a.m – I was the deputy of the former supreme prosecutor Pavel Zeman, we share similar views. The Supreme Prosecutor is an important figure, he is obliged to communicate with politicians and government officials and to reflect the needs of the public interest. But he also has to manage the system somehow, give it some direction and protect it from external influences.
7:00 a.m – I have never experienced any intervention from politics. But I am prepared for such a situation. However, the influence of politics on specific criminal cases is, in my opinion, overestimated today. But we have to be alert, those efforts can be here. We want the new law on the public prosecutor’s office to guarantee this, so that the public prosecutor’s office is completely independent of external influences. Whether they are politicians or lobbyists.
8:00 a.m – I have repeatedly discussed the law with Minister Blažek, the material that was prepared at the end of the holidays is a good basis for further discussion and for the public prosecutor’s office to be guaranteed a certain independence. But this is not the only reason for the adoption of the amendment, the step of limiting the term of office of prosecutors is also important, which will increase their responsibility for the position. The position of the highest prosecutor, who could be dismissed by the government at any time without reason, was also a weak point, and the appointment procedure was not transparent. I hope this changes.
10:00 a.m – We are clearly inclined to make it possible to recall all senior prosecutors through disciplinary proceedings. Clear rules should be laid down as to how disciplinary offenses are assessed. It should be narrower for the prosecutor than for the chief prosecutor.
1:00 p.m – It is unsustainable for the chief public prosecutor to continue to be dismissed without giving a reason and without being able to review whether those reasons were really on the table or not.
4:00 p.m – The former chief prosecutor in Olomouc, Ivo Ištvan, claims that Pavel Blažek has reservations about the chief prosecutor’s office mainly because it was behind the raid on the Government Office, which was followed by the fall of the government led by citizen democrat Petr Nečas. Couldn’t there be personal animosity here? I don’t think so, Mr. Ištvan’s departure was not caused by any personal pressure from the minister, I talked to him about that step. He evaluated the situation in such a way that before the amendment to the Act on Public Prosecutor’s Office is discussed, another person should be the head of the High Prosecutor’s Office in Olomouc.
17:00 – In July, as every year, the European Commission issued an assessment of the rule of law in member countries. In the Czech Republic, she appreciated the suggested judicial reforms, which are supposed to strengthen the independence of prosecutors, but according to the European Commission, the current fight against corruption in high places is not sufficient. Why do we have these reserves? We have studied the report and it does not sound bad to us, the report is favorable for the public prosecutor’s office. It is tricky to rely on a single source of data when assessing corruption and corruption risks. The European Commission was primarily based on data from non-profit organizations, which can be subjectively tuned (…) The will to prosecute this criminal activity is a given and unquestionable. The report also mentioned the case of Čapí hnízd, but that is not a corruption case, it is a case of subsidy fraud. But that viewership is determined by the person of the accused, not by the character, the nature of the case.
20:00 – Isn’t the length of cases – such as the Magpie’s Nest – a problem that the judiciary lacks public confidence? I don’t want to evaluate the case of the Magpie’s nest, it is specific. I understand that a large part of the public is watching it, but I would not want to judge the activities of the public prosecutor’s office based on one case. In 2021, I had 169,000 criminal proceedings here, of which 64,000 turned into the prosecution of persons, of which 59,000 persons were brought before the court, about 4,500 cases were dealt with by diversion before they went to court. However, we could count on the fingers of our hands the cases that are still being discussed and according to which the prosecutor’s office is evaluated.