Justice minister may be sacked in face of abuse of office charges

Jiří Pospíšil reportedly faces criminal complaint over sacking of Prague’s head prosecutor, and his party’s leaders wants him to resign

Tom Jones 24.2.2012
Konflikt: Peake předložila návrh na poslední chvíli a bez předchozích jednání, Pospíšil projednávání materiálu zastavil. | na serveru Lidovky.cz | aktuální zprávy Konflikt: Peake předložila návrh na poslední chvíli a bez předchozích jednání, Pospíšil projednávání materiálu zastavil. | foto: © ČTK, ČESKÁ POZICEČeská pozice
Konflikt: Peake předložila návrh na poslední chvíli a bez předchozích jednání, Pospíšil projednávání materiálu zastavil.

This Friday could be Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil’s (Civic Democrats, ODS) last working day in office, with party leaders showing no sign of supporting him in the face of a criminal complaint against him, the daily Právo reports, citing a source within the ODS. The complaint, filed on Monday, alleges Pospíšil and Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman abused their powers in replacing the Chief Prague Prosecutor Vlastimil Rampula with Stanislav Mečl.

The ODS party’s executive leadership (the “gremium”) called upon Pospíšil to resign on Thursday evening, with Prime Minister Petr Nečas, the party chairman, particulary incensed. “The prime minister really was livid. Practically everyone was shouting at Minister Pospíšil and loudly criticized him over [the Rampula case],” the source, who attended the meeting, told Právo.

“It was said that he had unnecessarily medialized the whole affair and at the same time, he was told it’s not for him to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ prosecutors. Then there was the call for Pospíšil to finish. There should be a meeting about it on Monday at which it will be decided who will replace him,” the ODS party member said.

Although Pospíšil flatly denied any call had been made for his resignation at Thursday’s meeting of the “gremium,” he refused to say what had been discussed.

Rampula’s return

Pospíšil had dismissed Rampula in July 2011 on the grounds that the High Prosecution Service in Prague had deliberately failed to properly investigate a number of high-profile corruption cases and that, among other shortcomings, he had failed to react to mistakes made by his subordinates. The Supreme State Prosecutor, his superior, was instrumental in the decision; Zeman appointed one of his deputies, Stanislav Mečl, to replace Rampula on a provisional basis while the latter appealed against his dismissal.

The Municipal Court in Prague upheld the appeal on Tuesday, ruling that even if mistakes had been made by his subordinates, Rampula had not exceeded his powers or failed to fulfill his responsibilities by not reacting to the errors. It also found he 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).

According to Pospíšil and Zeman, Rampula had abused his power by instructing the supervisory state prosecutor not to launch an appeal against the release from custody of former IPB managers: The court ruled Rampula had the right to give such an order. Additionally, the subordinate in question, whose name was not revealed, testified she had acted of her own accord.

Legal precedent

Rampula’s appeal against his dismissal set a precedent for the Czech judiciary, which has never previously dealt with a dispute over a high-placed appointment in the prosecution service. The court’s ruling took effect as of Tuesday and Rampula returned to work the next day.

Several anti-corruption organizations decried the development. David Ondráčka, the head of Transparency International’s Czech branch told public television that Rampula has often been accused of  “obstructing the prosecution of grave crimes” and been suspected of having contact with people “from the world of organized crime.” ‘If I’m purposely being criminalized in this way, there’s hardly anything I can do. Let the organs involved in the criminal proceedings investigate thoroughly.’

There is speculation the Justice Ministry will appeal the decision or that Zeman may launch disciplinary proceedings against Rampula within the framework of the prosecution service.

Meanwhile, the police refused to confirm having received a criminal complaint against Pospíšil and Zeman, which, according to Právo, was sent directly to Police President Petr Lessy. “If such a complaint was filed, then it was processed in the standard way and passed to the relevant unit,” Lessy told Právo.

For his part, the justice minister says he is being unfairly targeted: “I don’t have the feeling that I have committed any criminal act, and if I’m purposely being criminalized in this way, there’s hardly anything I can do. Let the organs involved in the criminal proceedings investigate thoroughly, but I will not in any way let myself be intimidated,” Pospíšil told Právo.

Along with calls for his dismisal from within the ODS, the smallest member of the tri-party government coalition, Public Affairs (VV), is rumored to be keen to replace Pospíšil with one of their own — Deputy Prime Minister Karolína Peake, a lawyer who leads the government’s anti-corruption agenda. But Peake, which the daily described as the only qualified VV candidate, has said in recent days that she is not interested in taking up the post.

Regardless, VV’s interest in the case is evident, and Právo noted that Lessy was appointed at the insistence of VV chairman Radek John, when he was still interior minister.