Thursday, 17 April 2014

Tatra's former US head insists businessman asked for bribe

22 January 2014

Prague, Jan 21 (CTK) - Ronald Adams, former U.S. director general of Tatra, a lorry maker seated in Moravia, insisted before a Prague court Tuesday that Czech businessman Michal Smrz offered him promotion of a public order for Tatra in exchange of 100 million crowns in 2008.

Smrz, owner of the MPI armament company, faces criminal charges over the Tatra case along with former Czech defence minister Martin Bartak. Charged with attempted fraud, Smrz could be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail. He pleads innocent.

The prosecution says Smrz tried to gain money from Tatra representatives for removing problems the company had in connection with the Defence Ministry's order for the supply of off-road vehicles for the Czech military.

Smrz pretended he could influence the Defence Ministry and government officials. For example, he promised to stage a personal meeting of Tatra managers with the then prime minister Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS).

Since he did not enjoy such influence and could not fulfil his promises, his behaviour can be assessed as attempted fraud, the state attorney says.

Adams Tuesday described four meetings he had with Smrz.

The first one, initiated by Smrz, took place in Adams' office on January 11, 2008. Smrz told Adams that he knew about problems surrounding Tatra's public order and that he could help settle them, Adams said Tuesday.

He said Smrz spoke about a help that would require some expenses.

Another meeting, at which Smrz set the demanded sum at 100 million crowns, took place in a restaurant in Prague on January 16, 2008, Adams continued.

He said he neither nodded to nor declined Smrz's offer, because the tests of Tatra lorries were underway then and Adams could win more time by delaying his answer.

At the time, the media wrote negatively about Tatra. Politicians, reacting to Tatra's new sub-contractor, were trying to strip Tatra of the public order, Adams told the court Tuesday.

A meeting in Brno's Holiday Inn hotel followed on January 30, with Adams making an audio recording of it. Before, he says he told Smrz by phone that Tatra would not pay 100 million crowns to him.

The audio recording, which is of a poor technical quality and not well comprehensible, is one of the main pieces of evidence in the proceedings against Smrz and Bartak.

The aim of the audio was to try to make Smrz say who was behind the campaign against Tatra and who influenced the lorries' testing, as the tests were going on well, except for minor shortcomings, Adams said.

That is why, he said, he sought a personal meeting with Topolanek in order to find out whether Topolanek was behind the negative campaign.

At their last meeting in Prague on March 19, Adams told Smrz that Tatra would pay nothing to him. The tests had been completed on March 3 and Adams was convinced that the supply would be approved without Tatra having to pay anything, he said Tuesday.

Bartak, Smrz's friend who was deputy defence minister at the time, is suspected of having asked a Tatra representative for a bribe of 80 million crowns in February 2008 in exchange for his promotion of the above order.

Some time ago, Bartak accused Adams of corruption. He said Adams had offered him a bribe for securing further Czech public orders for Tatra. Nevertheless, a court eventually acquitted Adams of the charges.

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