Judge Petr Sedlařík of the Kladno District Court issued a verdict in the contract manipulation case in the “Lány branch case”, in which his boss Miloš Balák was sentenced to a three-year sentence of jail. President Milos Zeman immediately released his indirect subordinate by granting him a pardon. What led Judge Sedlařík to the verdict – and how does he view forgiveness? According to the reactions from all sides, and according to Judge Sedlařík, it was one of the biggest blows he received in the modern history of justice since the announcement of the amnesty in 2013.
You mentioned in the reasons for judgment that the behavior of the convicts was a denial of the meaning of the bidding process. That in itself sounds compelling. What was most important to you during the verdict?
The thing was that it was decided in advance who and in combination with what subjects would win the official tender. That’s what happened – and the subjects then had to split the money that was meant for the contract.
Why was Miloš Balák given an unsuspended sentence? What led to this from a legal point of view?
The number of aggravating circumstances was much higher than, in essence, the only mitigating circumstance, namely that Mr. Balák was still a blameless and unpunished person. I wouldn’t want that to be seen as an exemplary punishment. Anyone who commits the same offense in the same position of responsibility as Mr. Balák would receive the same penalty. As for the aggravating circumstances, it was a large sum of money, but above all that the money went through the presidency. In fact, the defense is right – but not in the sense that they interpreted it or that the president’s spokesperson said.
I repeat: the money that passed through the presidency was used for the crime. The office of the president is a publicly watched institution that should represent law and morality. The Criminal Code recognizes the circumstances of the abuse of one’s employment and position to commit a crime; Castle is wrong to say he doesn’t know. Abuse was another aggravating circumstance. The cooperation of a large number of people and companies carefully hidden in the environment of the castle estate has been so extensive, intense and long-lasting that it has become another aggravating circumstance.
Also read: Dirty hands action. Pardon Balak, the president ridiculed justice
You have already mentioned this – according to the press release, the president said that Miloš Balák would not have received such a punishment if he had not worked where he works. It has a nuance of accusing the judiciary or you and the superior court of a conspiracy against the Castle.
The first association was that it was such an elegant ending to an affair that was intertwined with friends. In fact, this end of the affair does not surprise me. As I said, the cooperation of people who have had anything to do with the contract has been tremendous.
It is not uncommon for presidents to pardon immediately after a final verdict. What does that mean in this case?
It fits into the context of the case. If the penalty of imprisonment or disqualification were applied, then the line of work would probably be broken, but now, after the pardon has been granted, it would continue.
It sounds like a fear that the crime might continue. There is a group of people at the castle who go to each other in political and economic affairs; they overlap. Are you afraid that certain inequities may reproduce there?
I cannot responsibly say that the crime will continue. But I can say responsibly that all the relationships that are being created will continue, that’s obvious. Be that as it may, the sentence was also imposed in order to avoid the situation which led to the commission of the crime. This assurance by justice and the state fell by grace.
How does grace affect you as a judge, not only as the one who rendered the judgment upheld in the first instance, but as a representative of the judiciary?
It can be demoralizing, evoking a sense of futility. We try to do a professional job to make sense. Justice is already well hung, and this pardon does not add respect for court decisions by the perpetrators of crimes. Even sadder is how it will affect the general public. Convicted people will serve their time and maybe say why I and others don’t? Just because he knows someone high? And he knows the president? In my opinion, this is one of the most severe blows to justice since the Great Amnesty of 2013.