The former Chief of the General Staff, Josef Bečvář, testified for the defence in the trial concerning the Czech Army´s CASA aircraft acquisition. He said that the planes proved to be perfect when used in The Czech Republic and on foreign missions. He does not recall having noticed any reservations concerning the price or anything else when the purchase was being negotiated. However, prosecutor Jan Kořán confronted him with a written statement in which Bečvář refused to recommend purchasing the CASA aircraft.
The former Chief of the General Staff defended the purchase of this aircraft in court.
In April 2009, the Czech government, led by Mirek Topolánek (ODS), decided to purchase four CASA transport aircraft for more than CZK 3.5 billion. It was after the cabinet had lost a no-confidence vote, which made Topolánek resign as prime minister. The then Minister of Defence Vlasta Parkanová (KDU-ČSL, TOP 09) and the then deputy minister for armaments and acquisition Jiří Staněk are accused of not verifying the appropriate price of the aircraft and thus causing a loss of CZK 819 million to the state.
Back then, Bečvář served as Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Director of the Force Development Division of the Ministry of Defence. “As far as I can remember, I did not notice any pressure from Minister Parkanová regarding the CASA aircraft purchase,” he said at the District Court of Prague 6 when asked by Staněk’s lawyer. He also claimed that he didn’t recall noticing any reservations over the purchase.
“The CASA aircraft have been used both in the Czech Republic and on foreign missions. I think they proved to be perfect. When I was Chief of General Staff, there were even plans to buy two more planes of this type,” said Bečvář, who held that post from 2015 to 2018. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence recently informed the government of its intention to purchase two new CASA C-295MW transport aircraft for CZK 2.3 billion excluding VAT.
A controversial document was presented by the prosecution
Prosecutor Kořán said that Bečvář was not telling the truth when claiming he was not aware of any objections raised against the aircraft acquisition. Kořán presented a document dating from March 2008, in which Bečvář refuses to recommend the purchase. Bečvář replied that it had happened more than ten years ago and he couldn’t recall why he had not supported the purchase at that time. However, he noted that this had not been his personal opinion, but an opinion issued by a dedicated department, which he signed as head of the division.
Staněk called the document “totally irrelevant”. According to him, there were multiple opinions on the issue and they were gradually changing, until the contract was concluded in May 2009.
Other defence witnesses –included Aleš Opata, incumbent Chief of the General Staff, and Vladimír Ložek, former director of the Internal Audit and Inspection Department of the Ministry of Defence and former Commander of the Military Police. Just like Bečvář, they stated that they had not noticed any pressure or reservations concerning the purchase.
“By that time, I had been in the army for over 30 years. I had a lot of friends at the Kbely air base. I guess would have noticed such a thing,” Ložek says. “Today, the CASA fleet has more than 14,500 flying hours. Our experience with the aircraft is good. This is also evidenced by their long-term deployment in Operation Sinai,” said Opata.
Staněk and Parkanová, who were not present at the hearing, plead not guilty. Both are facing up to ten years in prison over abuse of power and breach of trust. Staněk has previously stated that the Ministry had followed the standard procedure when deciding about the aircraft purchase, just like in the case of other public contracts.
Several government colleagues of Vlasta Parkanová testified for the defence, including Petr Nečas (ODS), then Minister of Labour and later Prime Minister, and Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09), former Finance Minister. Nečas pointed out that the purchase was a political decision made by the entire Cabinet, not by the Minister of Defence or her department. Kalousek said that Parkanová had no legal duty (and no opportunity) to commission an expert report regarding the aircraft price.
The case has dragged on for four years and it is not even halfway through. The prosecution asked the court to speed up the proceedings before the statute of limitations expires. Also, there is a risk that the judge will not be able to finish the case before she retires, in which case the entire trial would have to be repeated. The court has not yet issued a statement regarding the delays. The trial is further complicated by the fact that some witnesses repeatedly failed to appear in court.