Top Czech court upholds justice minister’s sacking of Prague prosecutor

Vlastimil Rampula has been accussed of dragging his feet on politically senstive corruption cases, hampering investigations

Politics & Policy|Society
Brian Kenety | 12.06.2012
The Supreme Administrative Court on Tuesday struck down a ruling by the Prague Municipal Court to reinstate Vlastimil Rampula as Chief Prague Prosecutor

Chief Prague Prosecutor Vlastimil Rampula will again be removed from office following a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court (NSS) on Tuesday in favor of a cassation complaint by Czech Minister of Justice Jiří Pospíšil, who charged the top prosecutor had held up key corruption investigations and mishandled a major privatization case, costing the state tens of billions in damages.

Pospíšil (Civic Democrat, ODS) dismissed Rampula in July 2011 charging that he his office had purposely failed to properly investigate a series of high-profile cases, among them that of the formerly state-owned mining company Mostecká uhelná společnost (MUS), now called Czech Coal, and massive corruption surrounding a deal to purchase Gripen fighter jets that was later cancelled.

The justice minister also charged that Rampula had failed to react to mistakes made by his subordinates that damaged the Czech state’s interests. The Municipal Court in Prague, however, ruled in February 2012 that even if mistakes had been made by his subordinates, Rampula, in not correcting these mistakes, had himself not failed to fulfill his responsibilities.

The municipal court also found the top prosecutor had not tried to influence a subordinate supervisory prosecutor in a high-profile case into alleged asset-stripping of the former Investiční poštovní banka (IPB). As for Pospíšil and Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman’s assertion that Rampula abused his power by instructing his subordinate not to launch an appeal against the release from custody of former IPB managers; the court ruled he had the right to give such an order.

Jiří Pospíšil, Minister of Justice

The NNS upheld the justice minister’s cassation complaint based on evidence of serious misconduct, saying mistakes occurred repeatedly and that individual cases should not be evaluated separately. “The summary of the mistakes should be qualified as a breach of the duties of a senior state attorney in a serious way,” NSS chairman Josef Baxa said.

Although it struck down the earlier decision, the dispute between Pospíšil and Rampula will now be again taken up by the Municipal Court in Prague. Nonetheless, the justice minister said it was a welcome development.

“[The ruling] gives me personally and the entire ministry great satisfaction. I’m glad that the Supreme Administrative Court confirmed the validity of my decision to recall Mr Rampula,” he said. “It gives the prosecution service an opportunity to continue the reform and purification process. Public prosecutor’s offices must be led by technically proficient and trustworthy people.”

Rampula’s appeal against his dismissal set a precedent for the Czech judiciary — which had never previously dealt with a dispute over a high-placed appointment in the prosecution service. The court’s ruling in February allowed Rampula to return to work the following day, but Pospíšil soon set into motion a second attempt to oust him.

In round two of the so-called “war of the prosecutors,” Pospíšil focused on the MUS affair, which resulted in estimated damages of Kč 12 billion. But Rampula has been criticized for failing to act vigorously in a series of top scandals. The Czech anti-graft group Public Against Corruption (VPK) estimated that he and his deputy Libor Grygárek were responsible for the failure to investigate seven cases where damages amounted to around Kč 65 billion to the Czech state plus another three major cases where no clear figure could be put on the damages (the collapsed bank IPB, led to estimated damages of Kč 6 billion; corruption in the deal to hire Gripen jet fighter aircraft, Kč 20 billion.)

MUS (now Czech Coal) is the second-largest coal mining company in the Czech Republic. The controversial Appian Group acquired a bare majority in the company in May 1999, two months later buying out the state’s remaining 46.29 percent stake. As of December 2010 it is fully owned by Czech billionaire Pavel Tykač, through the privately-owned investment company Indoverse.

Swiss detectives discovered that following its 2002 purchase of the Czech engineering giant Škoda Plzeň, Appian Group transferred a staggering Kč 150 million in “consultation fees” to a firm registered in the Virgin Islands, which in turn sent it on to firms connected to reputed Czech mobsters František Mrázek and Tomáš Pitr, as well as to a Slovak consulting and financial services firm that was advising the government on the Škoda Plzeň sale.

The Czech Police and prosecution service looked into the dubious dealings surrounding MUS, which later became Czech Coal, for around a decade before closing the case in 2008. According to Swiss authorities, the Czech Republic waited too long to show its interest in the MUS case — the government had been informed in 2006 by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General [Ministère public de la Confédération, or MPC] of the possibility to be a party to the case. 

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