Prague - Former Czech Defense Minister Martin Bartak and an arms company owner have been acquitted of bribery charges by a Prague municipal court.
“The court lacked evidence. There were only four relevant pieces of evidence, and they were quite controversial,” said Judge Stanislav Kralik. “In this situation we cannot conclude that the action took place as described by the state attorney, so we have acquitted the defendants.”
State attorney Dusan Taborsky has appealed against the verdict to the High Court in Prague.
“The evidence was aimed at destroying me, at removing me from public posts,” said Bartak, who served as defense minister from 2009 to 2010, in his closing speech.
The prosecution said that Bartak had asked for a bribe of USD 5 million. In exchange, he allegedly offered to secure for the Tatra truck maker a lucrative contract to supply hundreds of military vehicles to the Defense Ministry.
Michal Smrz, owner of the MPI Group arms company, was charged and eventually acquitted alongside Bartak.
Former Tatra executive Duncan Sellars and former US ambassador to the Czech Republic William Cabaniss were called by the court as witnesses. Cabaniss previously served also as a member of Tatra's supervisory board.
Both Sellars and Cabaniss told the court that Bartak had asked for a bribe, but other witnesses, including for example former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, said the contrary.
According to the prosecution, then-Minister Bartak asked Cabaniss for a bribe in February 2008 during an official visit to the USA. And in January 2008, MPI Group's Smrz allegedly asked then-Tatra CEO Ronald Adams for CZK 100 million (EUR 3.65 million) and eventually CZK 20 million (EUR 730,000) in exchange for arranging a personal meeting with then-PM Topolanek.
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