published: 20.01.2014, 11:18 | updated: 20.01.2014 11:38:16
Prague - Former defence minister Martin Bartak pleaded not guilty in the case of alleged corruption accompanying the purchase of Tatra lorries for the Czech military in court that started dealing with today.
If found guilty, he faces up to 12 years in prison for having taken a bribe.
Bartak called the charges absolute nonsense and an expediently fabricated construct.
He at the the same time refused to answer the question of the Prague Municipal Court´s panel chairman about his current income, which he justified by the journalists´ presence in the court room.
"I have never committed the acts for which I am blamed in the presented charges, and they have never occurred either. I firmly believe that this fact will be fully proved during the trial," Bartak said in his testimony.
According to the charges, Bartak in his capacity as then deputy defence minister attempted to influence the contract on the supply of several hundred Tatra off-road vehicles for the Czech military.
The charges also say Bartak in vain demanded five million dollars from Tatra's supervisory board head William Cabaniss, former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, to settle the firm´s business dispute with Prague that threatened Tatra's lucrative order, during his business trip to the United States in 2008.
Cabaniss and then Tatra manager Duncan Sellars claim they rejected Bartak´s offer and left the negotiations.
Bartak dismissed the charges today.
"I was included in the delegation at the very last moment, I was not striving for participation in it. Consequently, I could not have prepared any offer beforehand," he said.
Bartak recalled that he had talked to Cabaniss in the United States only shortly with then Czech PM Mirek Topolanek (Civic Democrats, ODS) present.
During a five-minute conversation with Cabaniss, Topolanek expressed indignation at and discontent with Tatra not fulfilling its commitments towards Czech firms repeatedly, Bartak told the court.
"No mention of money in any currency was made," Bartak stressed.
Topolanek then only said some solution should be found to compensate the losses worths tens of millions of crowns inflicted on Czech firms, speaking both Czech and English, Bartak said, adding that he was interpreting into English for Topolanek.
Many people were at the shooting range where the meeting took place, Bartak said.
"Only a lunatic or suicide would have made a corruption offer in such an environment," he noted.
Commenting on his current financial situation, Bartak said he is self-employed making his living by "consultancy in various areas," such as health care and trade, he specified in reaction to the judge´s question.
However, Bartak refused to reveal the level of his monthly income. He told the judge that he would answer this question in writing.
Along with Bartak, MPI arms firm owner and lobbyist Michal Smrz is charged in the case.
According to the charges, Smrz attempted to extract money from Tatra representatives by pretending influence on and contacts with high-ranking government and Defence Ministry officials.
In January 2008, Smrz allegedly promised to arrange a personal meeting with the prime minister (Topolanek), first for 100 million crowns and then for 20 million.
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