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Lower house does not release MP Svoboda for prosecution

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Prague, Jan 24 (CTK) – The Czech lower house did not release Civic Democrat (opposition ODS) MP Bohuslav Svoboda, former Prague mayor, for prosecution in the Opencard smart e-card case at Wednesday’s plenary session in line with a recommendation of its mandate and immunity committee.

Out of the 147 deputies present, 49 voted for his release, while 88 voted against it.

The lower house also did not release MP Pavel Ruzicka (ANO), who is accused of negligence and breach of trust over an allegedly inconvenient sale of a municipal house while member of a town council in north Bohemia, in line with the standpoint of its mandate and immunity committee. Out of the 143 deputies present, 18 voted for his release and 98 against it.

Svoboda did not hold a speech before the plenary, despite being called on to do so by Communist MP Leo Luzar.

Svoboda said on Tuesday after the committee’s meeting he believed political decisions could not be challenged in court because they were not purely economic in nature, but also accounted for people’s benefit.

“Deciding whether I throw out one billion for cancelling the Opencard within an hour’s time or whether I will try to save it is difficult. I am convinced that we made a correct political decision,” he stressed.

Marek Vyborny (Christian Democrats, KDU-CSL), the committee’s member, said it was unacceptable to criminalise local politicians for political decision-making.

TOP 09 chairman Miroslav Kalousek said municipal councillors often have to decide between bad and worse yet decisions and can face prosecution regardless of how they decide. This makes many feel afraid to run for the local councils, he said.

Former Prague councillor and Pirates MP Jakub Michalek said there was a need to find a scapegoat in the Opencard case, even though he had said he would vote for Svoboda’s release. He noted that those who prepared the project and approved it, that is former Prague mayor Pavel Bem (ODS) and his former deputy Petr Hulinsky (Social Democrats, CSSD) were not prosecuted.

Marek Benda (ODS), the chairman of the constitutional and legal committee, pointed out that ten councillors were accused, while only four were sentenced.

The police suspect Svoboda and other former Prague councillors of breach of trust and economic competition rules within the city’s Opencard project.

The project, launched by the City Hall under Bem as Prague mayor in 2002-2010, came under criticism as heavily overpriced while underway.

In the previous election term, the Chamber of Deputies released Svoboda for prosecution.

In 2016, a court imposed a suspended 2.5-year sentence on him, but Svoboda appealed the verdict, which therefore did not take effect.

Re-elected to the Chamber of Deputies in October 2017, Svoboda regained a deputy’s immunity.

Following Wednesday’s decision of the Chamber’s plenary session, Svoboda’s trial can be resumed only after his deputy’s mandate expires.

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