As Czechs are slowly digesting the shocking case of the Social Democrat politician David Rath, more details emerge about his arrest and the crime he allegedly committed. The opposition MP and governor of Central Bohemia was arrested on Monday with seven million crowns in his possession. While Mr Rath maintains his innocence, he has been charged with corruption, and remains in detention.
The court on Wednesday took David Rath into custody over concerns he might flee or interfere with the investigation. The police have been reluctant to provide more details on the case but according to several media reports, another 30 million crowns were found under the floor boards inside Mr Rath’s house. One reporter, who says she had a chance to view the police file, said the alleged seven-million crown bribe was linked to a rigged public contract for the planned renovation of the Buštěhrad chateau, paid for in part by EU funds.
Despite the mounting evidence against him, David Rath maintains he was framed. In a message to the press, Mr Rath said he had received a box which he thought contained a bottle of wine. “I was then apprehended by a police commando and to my amazement, there was money inside instead of the wine”, Mr Rath said.
Some six months ahead of Senate and regional elections, the police and prosecution vigorously rejected allegations the case might have a political background. Prosecutor Lenka Bradáčová told reporters on Tuesday that there was enough evidence to arrest him.
“I can say now that [David Rath] was charged with accepting a bribe. Mr Rath was arrested with seven million crowns in his hands as he was leaving the site where the criminal activity took place. I firmly reject any speculation that the intervention was politically motivated. I believe the evidence we have is convincing enough.”
Social Democratic party leaders were quick to distance themselves from David Rath have demanded he resign from all his posts. But the scandal might take the edge off their campaign against the government in which anti-corruption rhetoric has played an important role.
It is too early to say now what impact Mr Rath’s case will have on support for the Social Democrats in the autumn elections. Some voters could swing to the communists who have avoided corruption scandals so far, while others may vote for various new groups. But commentator Jiří Pehe says if the crisis is well managed, it might not hurt the party at all.
“If the Social Democrats play this well and carefully, they will manage to disassociate themselves from a politician whom many saw as a blemish on the face of the party. That paradoxically could even help the Social Democratic party.”
As for the general impact of the most high-profile corruption case ever prosecuted, Jiří Pehe says people might look at it in different ways.
“I think it will certainly contribute to an increased confidence of the people here that even big corruption cases can and will be investigated. But on the other hand, I think that it may have a slightly negative impact on the public in that most people will now think that corruption is even more wide-spread than they thought.”
But many Czechs also see at the funny side of the story. One of the many jokes being banded around says that by turning wine into money, Mr Rath outdid Jesus himself. One of the Czech betting firms also offers 4:1 odds that more than 50 million crowns will be found in David Rath’s home and office.