PRAGUE, Czech Republic — A Qatari prince is suing the Czech Republic for unlawful detention despite having been convicted of sexually assaulting more than a dozen underage girls.
The 2005 criminal case provoked a political firestorm and raised serious questions about the Czech Republic's commitment to the rule of law as the justice minister clashed openly with the state prosecutor. The former wanted the prince to be released from prison and sent back to Qatar, ostensibly to stand trial, while the latter viewed him as a sexual predator and insisted he be kept in detention and tried where the crimes had been committed.
“He was working here; his company was seated here; his victims were here. And the Prince of Qatar was personally here in the Czech Republic at the time when he was convicted,” said Marie Benesova, who was the state prosecutor at the time.
But Benesova lost her battle. The justice minister, with the eventual backing of a high court ruling, interceded and sent Prince Hamad bin Abdulla Thani Al-Thani back to Qatar. His extradition came after he was convicted of pimping, sexually abusing and corrupting 16 minors, according to the case file.
Now the prince's civil suit has again raised the question of whether the justice ministry's interference in the case violated the separation of powers enshrined in the country's constitution.
“The division of power between the executive and the judiciary is stipulated in Constitutional Law,” wrote Pavel Nemec, justice minister at the time of Al-Thani's extradition. “Our constitution is correct [it] complies with EU legislation and the decision of the ministry of justice of the extradition did not compromise the independence of the judicial system.”
Even though Al-Thani was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, the conviction is considered non-binding until it is affirmed on appeal. But he and Nemec believe the trial wasn't merely non-binding, but illegal.
Nemec shares Al-Thani's view that the entire trial should never have occurred.
“His detention and the following trial were illegal in the context of that decision,” Nemec wrote in an email, referring to his own decision that Al-Thani be sent back to Qatar.
The current civil suit stems from Al-Thani's 11-month detention during the criminal proceedings, in particular the several months time lapse between Nemec declaring Al-Thani be released and the affirmation of that decision by the high court. Now Al-Thani, whose family reportedly sits atop a billion dollar empire, is exploiting that loophole to sue the Czech state for 225,000 koruna (about $12,000) in damages.
Benesova, the former state attorney, said "'impropriety' [was] a weak term to be used” in describing the ministry's interference in the case, which resulted in Al-Thani being sent back to Qatar. This is not the only case in which former Justice Minister Nemec has openly appeared to interefere with the judicial process. “I called them 'the judicial mafia,'” Besenova said, referring to Nemec and a clique of insiders at the nexus of the justice ministry and the high court.
Ivan Pilip, a former education minister who, like Nemec, belonged to the now-defunct Freedom Union party, agreed with Benesova, saying the ministry had no business getting involved in the judicial process.
“It was not a standard procedure because the judiciary should be independent,” said Pilip, who left politics long before the Al-Thani scandal erupted. “And [Nemec] even said at the time that it was to stop international pressure. The justice ministry shouldn't interfere in court cases.”
In the email exchange Nemec insisted there was no pressure from the Qatari government, which is ruled by the Al-Thani family, saying, “Not pressure but a repeated demand; this is nothing out of the ordinary. Every state takes care of its citizens and makes efforts to help them in difficult situations.”
It would be difficult to change the climate that allows interference in the judicial system, according to Benesova.
“There is little or no respect for law in the Czech Republic generally speaking," she said. "And the political climate would need to change as well, because so far we have been pretending that we are observing the rule-of-law.”