The Czech Parliament had not seen the like of it – a member of Parliament, held in police custody on corruption charges, was escorted to the lower house where he tried to convince his fellow MPs of his innocence. Such was the scene that unfolded in the Czech Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday when MP David Rath accused everyone from the interior minister to the police and prosecutors from destroying his career. But Mr Rath’s speech failed to impress his colleagues who handed him over for prosecution.
It was perhaps the most closely watched parliament speech delivered in modern-day Czech politics. MP David Rath, arrested three weeks ago with seven million crowns stuffed in a wine box, addressed the lower house in an attempt to clear himself of the corruption accusations. The police claim that as Central Bohemian governor, Mr Rath overpriced a public procurement project and took the bribe as a reward. But David Rath told MPs his arrest was part of a plot orchestrated by his political enemies.
“I accuse the government of intentionally destroying a member of the opposition. I accuse the government of applying selective justice, of abusing the police in political struggle. I accuse the government of using the pretext of fighting corruption to silence its critic. The government is unable to lead the country out of the crisis and tries to cover it up with this fabricated scandal.”
It took David Rath, a former Social Democrat health minister, some 50 minutes to deliver his address in which he rejected all accusations. He said the police failed to prove that the public procurement project was overpriced in the first place, and criticized the fact that he and seven other people were held in custody “as if they were dangerous criminals”.
But Mr Rath did not answer the one question that everybody asked: how he got the seven million he was detained with, and from whom. Instead, the former prominent figure of the Social Democrat party hinted the money was to be used in financing the party which was so quick to distance itself from him after his arrest.
“Did David Rath accept a bribe? I say he did not. When you look at the incomplete police file that was made available, you’ll find mentions of ‘money for the elections’ and ‘financing the elections’. Parts of the file have been leaked and other parts will be leaked so it’s better I say this now but I won’t comment on it any further.”
Social Democrat officials vehemently denied such a possibility. For their part, members of the government also rejected Mr Rath’s claims of politically motivated prosecution. In the end, out of 191 MPs present, 183 voted in favour of Mr Rath’s prosecution. Two voted against while six – including two Social Democrats abstained. David Rath then returned to his cell in Litoměřice prison where he will wait until he is formally brought to court.
However, the question that remains is why the authorities made such an effort in investigating and prosecuting David Rath while dedicating much lesser resources to other blatant corruption cases, most notably those linked to the parties currently in power.