A hit and run court case with a difference has just come to an end in a Prague court after two years of intensive speculation on the proceedings and result. And for some the verdict will be proof that even the most powerful are not above the law.
Outside the Czech Republic, Roman Janoušek, is not a familiar name. He does not, and has not, held any top posts within the state apparatus and has not been elected by anyone. But Janoušek nevertheless is credited with being one of the biggest movers and shakers in the country. The lobbyist prospered as an almost inescapable middleman in the sizeable gray interface between business interests and political power.
Wire taps, purportedly of Janoušek in chummy talks with former Prague mayor Pavel Bém were leaked in 2012 and showed the two happily discussing deals aimed at fixing state and city property transactions, public appointments, and the gifts that would be needed to help things along.
Even though the tapes dated back to 2007, they still had an explosive impact for lifting the lid on the suspected, but still shadowy world of city and state politics. A few weeks after the phone taps were leaked, came the now infamous hit and run in which a drunk Janoušek in March 2012 first collided with another car and then ran over a 51 year old woman after she tried to stop him leaving the scene.
She lay in hospital for more than six weeks with concussion and broken ribs. In the court case that followed, the prosecution argued that Janoušek meant to kill the woman and demanded a minimum 10 year jail sentence. On Wednesday, Prague’s municipal court handed down a three year prison sentence with the judge saying that it was not possible to prove a clear intention to kill.
Martin Shabu is a journalist with Czech daily Lidové Noviny who has followed and written about the Janoušek case. I asked him whether justice had appeared to be done.
‘Basically, Mr. Janoušek did not break the law so far, it is the first time that he has been in court. In that respect, three years might be viewed as adequate. But the general public is, of course thinking that if it should be murder, then the punishment should be much more, or stronger, let’s say.’
But Martin Shabu admits that Janoušek’s appearance at all in court is a sign that the so-called ‘godfathers’ are not above the law. ‘When he had the car accident two years ago, nobody really believed that he will face justice so at least it’s a good sign that even a person with good contacts to politicians, to state officials, is able to be punished.’
Of course, appeals against the sentence can be lodged by both the prosecution and defence. But whatever the final sentence, the publicity surrounding the tapes, the hit and run, and disappearance of key political contacts, is already said to have resulted in Janoušek being a power no more.