Follow-Up: Who's Afraid of Alexei Zakharov?

The police have shelved the case of a Russian businessman who terrorized his neighbor

Original Article: Who's Afraid of Alexei Zakharov?

Police in the town of Trutnov have closed their investigation into the crippling of René Mandys, a gardener from Dolní Olešnice. Mandys has been under intense pressure from neighbor Alexei Zakharov, the Russian owner of the chateau in Dolní Olešnice, for four years now. More than a year ago, Mandys refused to sell his property to Zakharov and since then has faced a number of attacks.

First, he was severely beaten by one of Zakharov's guards. Not long ago after that, his glasshouse burnt down. On top of that, Zakharov cut off the water Mandys was getting from the chateau grounds, forcing him to build his own well at a cost of 100,000 crowns. Zakharov then blocked the two paths leading to Mandys's garden -- one with barbed wire, the other with a gate manned by guards. Mandys's customers have to call him on the phone and he has to go and pick them up at the gate.

In the course of the months-long investigation the local police discovered that the attacker was a 20-year-old man, Jan Brož, employed by Zakharov's security agency, Finance Garant, which is responsible for guarding the chateau. The state prosecutor in Trutnov, Eva Šperková, charged Brož with the attack and he is now awaiting rial. However, neither Brož nor Finance Garant's owners are willing to communicate with the media. Their website says they have worked for “Czech security units”, using their “knowledge and contacts” from their previous profession. Their employees are often people who used to work for government representatives. Alexei Zakharov is listed among their VIP clientele.

What does the agency say about the fact that one of their employees is facing trial for causing serious injury? "I don’t know anything about it," says one of the three co-owners, Igor Augostovič. "It doesn’t concern me. Goodbye." The conversation with another co-owner, Michael Beneš, is somewhat absurd. At first, he recommends writing a letter to Brož's "employer". Then he denies he is a representative and co-owner of Finance Garant, information that can be easily looked up and verified online: "I am supposed to be the representative and co-owner of Finance Garant? It is you who says that."

Out of nine misdemeanors the local police found culprits in three cases, all of whom appear to work for Finance Garant. "We haven't found the real proof," said Jan Pavelka, head of the Trutnov police department, after the case was closed. "We failed to do it." But why did they fail? "The accused refused to talk," he says, before going on to evaluate his colleagues' work. "I think they [the police] tried hard. The fact they haven't found any evidence doesn't mean they didn't try."

Not so hopeless
In October, a court in Pardubice ruled that the one of the public paths blocked by Zakharov must be reopened. The Russian businessman has ignored the ruling and is apparently going to appeal. Because of a lack of manpower, the police can't patrol the area constantly.

"Only long-term systematic pressure can stop the lawbreaker thinking he can't be punished," says David Slováček of the ombudsman's office, explaining how best to deal with harassment from someone who thinks they're above the law. It should be pointed out that Josef Vaške, Mandys's  lawyer (who died recently in a car accident) didn't do enough to defend his client. He could easily have asked the authorities to issue a so-called preemptive measure that would force Zakharov to leave the gate open and oblige the police to watch over it.

Dolní Olešnice Mayor Radoslava Cermanová is to send an order to Zakharov in December demanding that he opens both gates. "I am not against the park being locked overnight," she says. "But during the day the gates should be opened." If Zakharov doesn't obey the order, he will be fined.

Unable to take the pressure, the gardener and his wife, meanwhile, decided to sell two of their houses, some land and some glass houses to Zakharov, but that wasn't enough for the Russian businessman. "The sum Mr. Mandys wants is too high, according to my client," says Zahkarov's lawyer, Jelínek. The storm the case has created in the media and among the public has at least meant that René Mandys hasn't been attacked again.

Moreover, the Olešnice case has been under scrutiny from the Interior Ministry. Minister Jan Kubice asked for documents related to the case and wants to launch his own investigation if the police have truly exhausted all possibilities. The information from the police only arrived last week, however, and the minister hasn't had time to examine the case yet.

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