Soc Dems aim to clip Czech president’s clemency powers

Social Democrats (ČSSD) stop short of calling on President Václav Klaus to resign, want constitutional amendment to limit his powers

Politics & Policy|Society
Tom Jones | 24.02.2012
ČSSD deputy leader Lubomír Zaorálek is spearheading his party’s move against President Václav Klaus’ controversial pardons

In response to the controversial pardons granted by President Václav Klaus on Valentine’s Day, the largest opposition force, the Social Democrats (ČSSD), announced Friday that it will put forward a bill whereby presidential pardons will have to be countersigned by the prime minister or a minister. ČSSD deputy chairman Lubomír Zaorálek says the president’s current powers are a “relic” from the communist era.

The ČSSD leadership met on Friday morning to decide how to react to the controversy over pardons granted by Klaus on February 14 and on previous occasions. Earlier reports suggested the party would call on the Czech president, whose second and final mandate ends in February 2013, to resign.

Zaorálek said five of the people pardoned (for crimes including fraud, embezzlement, soliciting and offering bribes) had connections with the “criminal environment” of František Mrázek, who was killed by an unknown assassin in 2006, and his associate Tomáš Pitr, who is now in custody in Switzerland waiting for a ruling on his extradition to the Czech

‘It’s as if the Presidential Office wants to make some kind of demonstration of benevolence towards cases of corruption and financial crime’ Republic.

He reminded his audience that a criminal complaint has been lodged against Klaus and his administration according to which a bribe was paid to secure pardons and said it was imperative that the president and his team fully cooperate with the police.

Further, the deputy ČSSD leader said Klaus’ leniency has undermined the principle that everyone is equal in front of the law, which he says is a cornerstone of the democratic system in the Czech Republic. “It’s as if the Presidential Office wants to make some kind of demonstration of benevolence towards cases of corruption and financial crime,” Zaorálek said.

Explaining the party’s decision to try to limit the president’s powers, Zaorálek said subjecting presidential clemency to approval by the prime minister or relevant minister would mark a return to the arrangement under the first Czechoslovak Constitution dating from 1920. He pointed out that the restriction was removed only under the communist regime in 1960.

“I consider it a mistake that this relic from the socialist era was not abolished immediately in 1989,” Zaorálek said referring to the year that saw the end of communist power in Czechoslovakia.

Two of the 15 cases of clemency announced by Klaus on Feb. 14 have sparked intense controversy:

  • Anna Benešová, the founder and former directress of the Metropolitan University in Prague who was found guilty of fraud, embezzlement and offering bribes was last year handed a two-year suspended prison sentence and banned from performing a managerial role for five years. Klaus not only cancelled Benešová’s sentence, he also wiped off her criminal record on the grounds she is looking after her ill husband. Reports have since emerged that Benešová and Klaus’ wife Livia were in close contact, which Klaus originally denied.
  • Tomáš Malina was last year sentenced to five years in prison for taking fuel from the petrochemical company Unipetrol [controlled by PKN Orlen of Poland] six years ago worth Kč 100 million but failing to pay for it. Malina is known to have had close ties with František Mrázek.

Members of Klaus’ administration have refused to answer questions about the latest pardons on the grounds that the reasons for the decisions are stated in the official announcement. 

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