Prague, Feb 29 (CTK) – The Czech court decision sending Energy Regulatory Office (ERU) head Alena Vitaskova to prison for 8.5 years over a huge solar plant fraud has been challenged due to a lack of direct evidence, yet the judge used strong arguments, Jaroslav Spurny said in the latest issue of weekly Respekt.

The verdict issued a week ago has not taken effect yet as Vitaskova appealed it. The ERU decides on enormous financial sums and on the strategic orientation of the country, Spurny writes.

Though this verdict is one of the welcomed resolute steps taken against “big fish,” Czech media are far from rejoicing over it and people express their doubts in Internet debates about the case in which the owners of two solar plants unlawfully gained two billion crowns in state subsidies according to the court, Spurny writes.

He says nobody has proved that Vitaskova gained any advantage for enabling the suspected fraud and there has been no direct evidence that she helped the fraudsters succeed and actively prevented their tricks from being revealed.

Judge Ales Novotny has nevertheless presented strong arguments and he claims that Vitaskova challenged the public trust in state institutions, Spurny writes.

He says the court based its verdict on a “closed circle of indirect evidence.”

According to the court, Vitaskova read e-mails in which her subordinate Michaela Schneiderova proposed in early 2012 to reject effort of other ERU employees to challenge licences for two solar plants owned by sons of billionaire Zdenek Zemek. Scheniderova then confirmed the licences and thus gave Zemek access to further subsidies, although a number of available documents proved that the licence was acquired fraudulently, Spurny writes.

All solar plants that received a licence from the ERU and launched their operation by December 31, 2010 were authorised to claim high state subsidies for the next 20 years, unlike those solar plant operators who failed to meet the deadline, Spurny says.

All checks by technicians and other available reports declare that the solar plants of the Zemek family had not been completed and could not have launched their operation by the end of 2010. However, the two plants received the ERU licence in the evening on December 31, Spurny writes.

The court imposed sentences of five to 7.5 years in prison on seven people, including Zemek and his sons and technicians, and it sent both Vitaskova and Schneiderova to prison for 8.5 years, although the two woman had anything in common with neither the Zemeks nor the ERU at the time of the fraud, Spurny writes.

But in August 2011, Vitaskova, owner of the Club of Gas Entrepreneurs firm, was named new ERU chairwoman and she later put her firm’s manager Schneiderova in charge of ERU’s licence section.

In June 2011, Zemek addressed Vitaskova’s firm with several business offers and he talked about them with Schneiderova. Vitaskova and Schneiderova refused to tell the investigators what kind of business it was, but the police revealed messages about “two big contracts” in their destroyed computers, Spurny writes.

Zemek said he presented the problems with the licences for the two solar plants to Vitaskova three weeks after her appointment to the post. In 2011, ERU carried out administrative proceedings that sought to strip Zemek’s solar plants of their licences. By February 1, 2012 only the signature of the new head of the licence section, Schneiderova, was needed to remove the licences. In the next days, Schneiderova sent several e-mails to Vitaskova that proposed various ways of halting of the proceedings. Vitaskova claims that she read none of these e-mails, even though police experts claim the opposite. On February 14, Schneiderova halted the proceedings and Zemek’s solar plants had the right to get further state subsidies, Spurny writes.

He says the deadline for challenging Zemek’s licences expired at the end of 2013 and the solar plants keep operating and receiving 100 million crowns a year from the Czech state.

The judge concluded that Vitaskova failed in her top role and harmed the trustworthiness of state institutions. As such a serious abuse of power is punished more strictly than possible corruption, the police, state attorneys and and judges did not make a thorough search for a possible reward for Vitaskova, Spurny writes.