Czech ex-minister caught red-handed by police with Kč 7 million

Top Social Democrat politician charged with taking bribes after being caught red handed by police with Kč 7 million

Politics & Policy|Society
Chris Johnstone | 15.05.2012
Social Democrat leaders have called for the Rath case to be dealt with promptly, hoping to put a lid on damage to the party

Top Social Democrat (ČSSD) politician David Rath was caught red-handed with Kč 7 million in his hands, according to state prosecutor for the Ústí region Lenka Bradáčová. That situation meant that police were bound to act immediately without regard to his parliamentary immunity. “The member of parliament was immediately detained as he committed a criminal offense,” she added.

Bradáčová said in a news conference Tuesday that Rath had been charged with taking bribes. According to some accounts the cash was found in a shoe box. Three women and four men have also been charged alongside the top Social Democrat politician with other offenses, she explained. Chairwoman of the lower house, Miroslava Němcová (Civic Democrats, ODS) has agreed to Rath been brought before a court, she added.

Police president Petr Lessy ruled out any suggestion that the case against Rath had been mounted on political grounds. “As police president, I resolutely refute any politicization of this case,” he said, adding that the police did not get involved in political battles.

‘The member of parliament was immediately  detained as he committed a criminal offense.’

The police action in the latter stages involved a hundred officers after three or four had piloted the investigation over the last six months.   

Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka called for Rath and other members of the party involved in the scandal to resign from their public positions and party membership immediately before it was forced to take action. He would have to give up his candidacy to be reelected as regional governor in the fall and the Central Bohemian region would have to find another candidate, he added.

“Rath’s behavior is unacceptable, unexplainable, and immoral,” Sobotka said, adding that it was a “very serious failing” from an active and visible member of the party.  The ČSSD leader said he would try to find out which other party members were implicated by Friday, when top party members will meet. The scandal is a blow to the leading left-wing opposition party which has been riding high in opinion polls and profiting from the disarray and scandals tarnishing the center-right coalition of Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrat, ODS).

Czech Foreign Minister and TOP 09 party leader Karel Schwarzenberg said that Rath’s detention was a sign that the country was becoming a European country and that the police were not afraid to take action against high-placed political figures, an accusation they have frequently run.

David Rath is one of the most controversial  figures on the Czech political scene who appeared to relish the fact and the accumulation of various public posts at the same time. He has often come under fire for the use of his high-profile regional post for political campaigns and the disbursement of grants to celebrities and supporters who might help his cause.

‘Rath’s behavior is unacceptable, unexplainable, and immoral.’

Rath was a surprise latecomer to the Social Democrats, joining the party in 2006 after a year earlier becoming Minister of Health in prime minister Jiří Paroubek’s government. Smartly turned out and sleek, Rath sometimes looked at odds with other party notables and the rank and file as regards both his style and highly abrasive conduct.

He did not seem to know when to stop when it came to accumulating public positions. At the current time he is the governor of the rich central Bohemian region which surrounds Prague, shadow health minister, member of parliament, and leading councilor in his home town.

He took the regional post following elections in the fall of 2008, where the ČSSD swept to victory in all parts of the country outside the capital in reaction to the unpopular center-right coalition government of former Civic Democrat (ODS) prime minister Mirek Topolánek. He was due to try and hold on the difficult prize in the autumn.

Rath has been an outspoken  member of the lower house of parliament since 2006, sometimes attacking those in his own party as well as their opponents. More recently, he has become famous for his jibes questioning the sobriety of Minister of Finance Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09), including one comment that the minister showed all the signs of a cheerful monkey and that he was 99.9 percent sure of being able to recognize a drunk man when he saw one. Such comments cost him a Kč 10,000 fine from a parliamentary committee on one occassion.

Public slapdown

Rath was earlier the victim of a televised clash with a former ODS  deputy prime minister Miroslav Macek, who strode up to Rath as he sat on the podium at a dentists’ conference and loudly slapped him round the head. The images went viral round the world and seemed to sum up the nasty, fisticuff, and short-tempered state of Czech politics. Macek said Rath had provoked him by suggesting that he had married for money.

After being a doctor, working in emergency services and as teacher at a medical faculty, Rath founded a doctors’ union in 1995, and three years later was elected president of the Czech Chamber of Doctors, the profession’s main association. He proved a virulent critic of government medical reforms and health policy. Rath originally joined the center-right Civic Democrats in 1991, sticking with the party for three years and then becoming one of its fiercest attackers. 

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