High Court overturns Opencard sentences

The cases of two former mayors and three others now goes back to the lower court

The decade-long Opencard saga is still not over. The High Court has overturned the convictions against two former Prague mayors, Bohuslav Svoboda (ODS) and Tomáš Hudeček (formerly TOP 09), and three other former officials.

Opencards were first issued in 2008 as a smartcard for public transit, but they immediately faced criticism for the lack of transparency in how the contracts were awarded.

The issue eventually wound up in the courts, with several public officials accused of entering into unfavorable contracts with the firm Haguess, which operated the system.

The High Court (Vrchní soud) in Prague has now vacated the lower court judgments against five Prague officials. The case will have to be taken up again by the Prague Municipal Court, with new guidance from the High Court.

The court database said the High Court issued its decision Sept. 12 in a closed session. The High Court’s minutes stated that the decision of the court of the first instance has been annulled and the case is being returned to the court of the first instance for re-examination.

The revoked verdict is from September 2016. The case concerned former city counselor Eva Vorlíčková (formerly TOP 09), former IT department director Jan Teska, former mayors Svoboda and Hudeček, and Svoboda’s former deputy mayor Josef Nosek (formerly ODS), all of whom received suspended sentences. Ten other officials were acquitted.

At the time of the sentencing Svoboda and Hudeček said the cases were politically motivated.

The contracts with Haguess were unanimously approved in April 2012 by the City Council after being recommended by an evaluation committee. The Prague Municipal Court concluded that the five defendants failed to perform a qualified analysis of the situation under which the contract was awarded, and didn’t look at alternatives or evaluate risks and costs.

According to the Municipal Court, the defendants favored Haguess and violated the rules on competition and on the obligation to manage assets.

In addition to suspended sentences, each of the five defendants was also required to refund the city Kč 40,000 with interest. The original verdict said the defendants caused damage of at least Kč 17.7 million.

The five defendants were not among those who implemented Opencard. Their administrations simply inherited the system.

The Opencard project began during the administration of then-mayor Paul Bém (ODS), who was not charged in the case.

The five defendants claimed they had little choice in renewing the disadvantageous contracts because of other existing agreements that were still binding.

It is no longer possible to extend the validity of the Opencards themselves. The last valid Opencards will expire in 2020.

The cards were replaced with new Lítačka cards in 2016, which are cheaper to operate, and the process behind them is more transparent. The city is also launching other options that allow transit passes to be connected to bank debit cards or smartphones.

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