Thursday, June 28, 2012

All dressed in white?

I've written elsewhere about the particular brand of corruption in the Czech Republic. This may not be a unique way of going about it, but the Czech approach seems to be centered in the prosecutorial function. That is, make sure the "right" people hold the position of prosecutor, and you can sleep soundly knowing that, however much your corrupt behavior in office gets written about in the press, you'll never see the inside of a jail cell, or even a courtroom for that matter.

The current Czech government was put together after elections in late May, 2010. The coalition parties were sort of an odd ménage à trois, but one of the things holding them together was their stated commitment to deal with corruption, and one of the great hopes in that effort was Jiří Pospíšil, the minister of justice.

Pospíšil was a young guy who'd earned a law degree from the law school of the University of West Bohemia (and unlike some of his fellow alums, he actually earned it--the law school was caught up in scandal when it turned out that there were mayors and others scattered across the political landscape who held law degrees from West Bohemia, but whose transcripts included passing grades for exams they'd evidently never taken).
He not only made the right noises about putting independent-minded people in prosecutorial positions, he actually did it, in a slow but deliberate way. At the end of 2011, he removed Renata Vesecká from the post of Supreme State Prosecutor. She had become one of the main faces of the perceived problems in the Czech prosecutorial system, as in the case of Jiří Čunek. (That case led the opposition's shadow Justice Minister to accuse Vesecká and several others of being part of a "justice mafia, Vesecká and her colleagues sued for libel, the case dragged on for three years, and the upshot of it seems to be that the shadow minister exaggerated and needs to send letters of apology, but that she wasn't substantively wrong in her statement.)

Anyway, long story short, the justice minister, Pospíšil replaced Vesecká with Pavel Zeman, a lawyer with an squeaky-clean reputation. The next big step was to remove Vlastimil Rampula, the chief prosecutor for Prague and therefore an important figure for anyone wanting their case swept under the rug--or worse: he was one of the few figures who might have been the source of leaked information that crippled an important corruption case, strained relations with neighboring Austria, and endangered a witness's life.

But getting Rampula out was itself no easy task. Zeman (the new Supreme State Prosecutor) proposed firing him in March 2011. Pospíšil eventually acted on the recommendation in October, 2011, but Rampula sued, and a court agreed with him. Finally, the 12th of this month, a higher court upheld Rampula's dismissal. So Pospíšil seemed to have managed to replace yet another cog of the corrupt prosecutorial system.

Then on Wednesday, Pospíšil himself was fired. Of course, as a minister, he doesn't really get fired, he resigns. But it was rather sudden, occurring pretty much out of the blue. The stated reason was that he wasn't being sufficiently economical with his ministry's budget, but that hardly seems to justify a surprise resignation. A writer for Britské listy has the standard alternative explanation:

Recently, Pospíšil has been very accomodating of Supreme State Prosecutor Pavel Zeman; perhaps it was simply necessary to remove him [Pospíšil] before he managed to name the chief prosecutor for Prague.

If Pospíšil's successor manages to cement in place in the Prague prosecutor's office another person adept at sweeping sensitive cases under the rug, we'll be right back where we were and politicians will once again have immunity.

What's more, it's not even necessary to name a new chief prosecutor for Prague; all that's necessary is to leave there as long as possible the de facto boss Grygárek, whose reputation speaks volumes.

All the reasons that [Prime Minister] Nečas gave for Pospíšil's firing could have waited until Pospíšil had named a chief prosecutor for Prague at Zeman's recommendation.
So it looks like a pretty clear case of the "octopus" of Czech corruption finding its way around a relatively tough opponent, and Occam's razor would seem to point in that direction. But I thought it worth mentioning a more sinister, conspiratorial theory:

What if the leadership of ODS [Pospíšil's own party] entirely rationally opted for a move that could change its electoral prospects? Who will likely be the next leader of ODS, which is now prepared to push through very unpopular and socially dangerous acts? [The party is trying to pass a privatization of the pension system.] Which of ODS's horses is the most acceptable figure for society at large, and who therefore should be kept the least affected by these steps?

It reminds me of an old joke, about how a fellow shows up at a circus and explains to the manager the appeal of his artistic number. The substance of the act is that he places a large vat of s..t in the middle of the arena, then he drops a good-sized boulder into it from high up. The director just isn't getting it and objects that everyone, is going to be horribly filthy, including the spectators To which the fellow answers, "Well, exactly. And then I make my entrance, dressed all in white."

Perhaps today Jiří Pospíšil got a receipt for some new white shirts.
As I said, my sense is that the simpler corrupt explanation for his firing is the real one, but I'm hardly close enough to these matters to have more than a vaguely informed opinion. What seems clear is that there isn't a good reason for what's happened.

No comments:

Post a Comment