Members of the lower house of parliament have voted 183–2 to allow for the police to prosecute opposition MP David Rath (Social Democrats, ČSSD), the former regional governor of Central Bohemia allegedly caught red-handed taking a Kč 7 million cash bribe.
Rath, who has been in police custody since his arrest on May 14 along with seven others on suspicion of bribery and fraud in public projects partly funded by the European Union, chiefly the reconstruction of a chateau in Buštěhrad, appeared before the lower house on Tuesday to make his case — flanked by police in plain clothes.
The former health minister not only maintained his innocence, he also accused the center-right government of framing him, as part of a political vendetta. Addressing Interior Minister Jan Kubice (unaffiliated), he sarcastically praised his him for being so adroit at exacting his revenge.
But Rath’s appeal to his fellow lawmakers not to strip him of immunity got a cold reception across party lines. Only deputies Pavel Ploc (ČSSD) and unaffiliated Jaroslav Škárka — the former Public Affairs (VV) MP who was convicted of a fraud earlier this year in a bribery scandal but has appealed the verdict — voted against Rath's prosecution.
According to the business daily Hospodářské noviny, Rath’s defense will center on three points: that he had no knowledge of the money — he has said he thought the box containing the Kč 7 million in cash in fact contained wine bottles; that he is the victim of a plot, and that evidence from police wiretaps is unreliable. He could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
In the wake of Rath’s arrest, the Central Bohemian region cancelled 19 tenders and contracted projects worth some Kč 2 billion. Zuzana Moravčíková (ČSSD) was elected on Monday to replace him as governor. She promised to offer posts in tender commissions for vital regional procurements to members of other parties.