Prague, Sept 8 (CTK) – The Prague Municipal Court imposed suspended sentences of 2.5 years and two years on former Prague mayors Bohuslav Svoboda and Tomas Hudecek, respectively, on Thursday for breach of trust within the Opencard project of a smart card for Praguers, and suspended sentences also went to another three officials.

Another 10 accused, including three incumbent members of the City Assembly, were acquitted. The verdict has not taken effect yet.

Both Svoboda and Hudecek appealed the verdict on the spot.

Svoboda said the verdict is a message to all municipal politicians and it may threaten democracy in the Czech Republic.

The court found Svoboda (Civic Democrats, ODS, in office 2010-13), Hudecek (formerly TOP 09, in office 2013-14), Josef Nosek and Eva Vorlickova, former city councillors for transport and IT, respectively, and Jan Teska, head of the city hall’s IT department, guilty of breach of trust and violation of the economic competition rules by pushing through two contracts between the city and the Haguess company in April 2012.

They caused a damage worth at least 17.7 million crowns to the city, the court said.

Nosek was given a two-year suspended sentence and Vorlickova and Teska three-year sentences each.

Each of the five officials must pay 40,000 crowns plus interests to the City of Prague.

The head of the court senate, Alexandr Sotolar, said the officials were aware that the Opencard licence contract they signed with Haguess was disadvantageous for Prague and the project’s costs were excessive.

They seriously violated public procurement rules by granting an advantage to Haguess, Sotolar said.

On departure from the courtroom, Svoboda told journalists that the court punished him and another four people though it admitted that they committed nothing.

“…democracy will end in this country…Ladies and gentlemen, there is still a lot of things for us to fight against,” he said.

Hudecek, too, said the judges imposed the verdict though they admitted that the suspects did not cause the Opencard problem, did not benefit from granting an advantage to Haguess and did their best to solve the problem effectively.

Someone’s interest may be behind the verdict, Hudecek said.

The acquitted suspects include incumbent city assemblymen Lukas Manhart, Vaclav Novotny and Pavel Richter (all TOP 09), two former city councillors, one Prague district mayor, two city hall employees and two members of a competition commission.

All suspects faced up to eight years in prison, if found guilty. All pleaded innocent from the beginning.

To defend themselves, they said the Opencard project was a long-lasting problem dating back to the era of Prague Mayor Pavel Bem (ODS, 2002-2010) and that they tried to tackle it in the best possible way. They said they could not act otherwise due to the previously signed licence contracts.