It has been exactly three years since, after winning the regional elections, Liberec governor Martin Půta (SLK) announced that this time he was running for the governorship for the last time.
At that moment he was free after six years, in May 2020, after a long wait for the verdict, the regional court acquitted him in a corruption case in which prosecutors accused him of accepting a bribe. And preparations were also underway for the parliamentary elections, where STAN was counting on its favorite governor.
In about a month, however, everything was different. In November, the High Court in Prague annulled the acquittal and Martin Půta returned to the “defendant” column. According to the current progress of the court, it is unlikely that he would get out of it before the 2024 elections.
Now he has sent a letter to the residents of the Liberec region that he would like to apply for their votes again – again “only” as a candidate for governor. He cites as the reason that he wants to finish the projects he started in the region, and that the situation in the Czech Republic, and thus the region, is more difficult due to the war in Ukraine. He will thus be running for the head of the Liberec governorship for the fifth time, he was its head for three terms.
The case of Martin Půta
- The case is connected with two projects of the Liberec company Geothermal Energy for Citizens (GEPO) in Liberec from 2012 to 2014 for almost 100 million CZK.
- A non-profit society wanted to draw European subsidies on them, but nothing was paid. Martin Půta is only concerned with a minor part of the indictment, namely in connection with securing a 55 million subsidy for the reconstruction of the church of St. Mary Magdalene in Liberec for 65 million.
- The indictment accuses Půta of accepting a bribe and abusing the authority of a public official, for which he faces five to ten years in prison. Specifically, that in connection with the church reconstruction project, he was supposed to ask the contractor for the employment of a person to whom he himself had a financial obligation and also to accept and be promised a bribe for influencing the decision-making of the Regional Council of the Northeast Cohesion Region.
- According to the indictment, the bribe for Půta was supposed to amount to 830,000 crowns, with 530,000 being paid to him.
- He should have received the money for the fact that, as the chairman of the Regional Council of the ROP North-East, he would ensure that the reconstruction of the church was kept in the subsidy program and that the funding was changed to an ongoing one, as the European money was to be paid only after the repairs were completed.
- Půta refuses this. He points out, for example, that in one of the wiretaps, another defendant even talks about the fact that “the governor refuses to support the project”.
- According to the indictment, Hetman was bribed by the defendant employees of the defendant company Metrostav, with whom he met at gas stations. According to Půta, they were not dealing with anything illegal and they were not secret meetings, as they were recorded in his diary and some were arranged by his secretariat.
- The Liberec court is dealing with the case for the second time. The first time he acquitted all the defendants, but the Supreme Court overturned the verdict and sent it back for a new trial.
But the fact is that the case that broke out on November 18, 2014, imprisoned him in the Liberec region and put the brakes on his budding political career. Currently for nine years, Půta has been the governor since 2012.
“Thanks to this case, I am a satisfied governor,” says Martin Půta today. The position of governor allows him to keep a reasonable distance from things and at the same time see the result of his work.
We wrote about a blocked career:
But even he himself admits that if it were not for the endless trial, he probably would not have stayed at the Liberec governorship. “I would exercise my natural ambitions in national politics,” he admits. “And maybe I would be out of it by now,” he adds an alternative ending to his political career.
But at the beginning of the election period, he thought that the verdict during the current election period was realistic.
“He would probably have been drafted into the government by now, he clearly has the skills to be a minister. He is a homo politician, he feels the mood of the society, he devotes time to it,” says Jan Farský, co-founder of the mayor’s movement in Liberecko and the current vice-chairman of the Mayor’s Office.
“He is a great national politician who has long gone beyond the borders of his region. He would make a great minister,” agrees STAN MP Petr Gazdík, who handed over the mayoral movement to him years ago, only to have to head it again after a few months.
But back to 2014. The mayors were gaining self-confidence, they had four deputies, even then already in the opposition, and talk began that cooperation with TOP 09 might end. After all, Půta made no secret of the fact that he was a supporter of this.
The last time a corruption scandal imprisoned him in Liberec just after the elections in 2021. Despite the protests of some of the Pirates, Půta was proposed among the candidates for ministers, specifically for transport. At the same time, he was the considered “double” for industry and trade, which ultimately manifested itself in the fact that after the elections he also appeared among the candidates for the supervisory board of the semi-state energy company ČEZ. Nothing came of it.
Accused as… Babiš
“We made a condition that he is a candidate for minister only if he is legally cleared,” says Mikuláš Ferjenčík (Pirates), the architect of the coalition of Pirates and Elders at the time. “We also built the campaign on the fact that Babiš goes to court. It probably wouldn’t really work,” says one of the negotiators of the government coalition for STAN.
And so Martin Půta’s career remains confined to the three thousand square kilometers of the Liberec region.
His conviction or acquittal is nowhere close, and there is not even a court hearing scheduled for this year. “The matter cannot be decided yet, because the court is waiting for the legal force of the decision in other proceedings, in which the imposition of a summary sentence is considered for some of the defendants,” says Karolina Francová, spokesperson of the Liberec branch of the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem, which is deciding Půt’s trial .
According to her, the proceedings are not delayed either by procedural actions or obstruction by any of the defendants. “This is a general problem of group cases in cases where there are other separate criminal prosecutions of some defendants and the imposition of summary sentences is considered,” he adds. The court must then include the previous – already decided cases. However, the transfer of the file sometimes takes time and, for example, written judgments are also awaited.
Půta and his lawyer have already asked the court four times to remove him from the trial involving a total of 12 persons and four companies into a separate case.
“Dismissing the case of any of the defendants would mean creating a copy of the file, which currently contains more than 25,000 sheets, due to the interconnectedness of the prosecuted acts, the roles of the individual defendants and the evidence presented,” counters the court spokesperson. “Separate decision-making regarding the individual defendants was difficult to separate precisely because of the interconnectedness of their roles, so that the formulation of the act including the description of the actions of other persons did not constitute a violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence,” he adds.
Regional elections 2024
In 2020, the public prosecutor proposed a five-year prison sentence for Půt. “It is not appropriate to speculate about the proposed sentence,” says Deputy Regional State Prosecutor Kateřina Doušová. The man who filed the lawsuit and led it before the court for years is now the district prosecutor in Jablonec nad Nisou. He will still be able to bring the case to an end, but he may not. The bond says he is innocent from the beginning.
“He was actually sentenced out of court,” commented Jan Farský on his friend’s blocked situation. He admits that he was among those who convinced Půta to resign at the beginning of the story. “I don’t think so today. Even if the court cleared him, he would always be a politician who had a problem and the dog wouldn’t bark at him. This is how he had a chance to prove himself, to work things out,” he said.
According to him, the Půta case undermines trust in the judiciary. “I question how much we can talk about finding justice in this case, when the process has been going on for so many years and it still hasn’t been decided even in the first instance,” he added.
We didn’t mind
However, it does not change the fact that Půt manages to stand his ground in front of the local voters. Already as an accused, for example, he ran for the House of Representatives from last place in 2017. He didn’t want to be an MP, the goal was just to support the candidate. However, the voters circled Půta.
In the last regional elections in 2020, the Mayors for the Liberec Region represented by Půt defeated their competition overwhelmingly with a profit of 38.6 percent. In the parliamentary elections, when together with the candidates for the Chamber of Deputies he toured meetings in order for local voters to identify the Liberec Mayors with the pirate-mayorist candidate, PirStan won 21.37 percent of the vote, i.e. it came second behind the ANO movement.
After all – Pirates especially because of this campaign love him even less than just as a man with a shell. At the moment when the preferences of the joint candidate began to decline, he deployed his tried-and-tested methods from the regional campaigns and, according to the Pirates, thereby called for circling, which STAN and the Pirates had forbidden.
Nevertheless, their Libertarian branch, together with the ODS, currently rules with him. “In Prague, they only know him because of that case and because of it they formed an opinion about him,” explains the contradiction between the attitude of the pirate headquarters and the region, their leader for regional elections Zbyněk Miklík. For him, Půta must be seen as innocent. “And I said that even before we joined the coalition with him,” he added.
According to Půt’s former coalition partners – the ANO movement – it is not possible to form a regional government without the votes of the Mayors. “We didn’t mind it last election period, and now the coalition partners probably don’t mind either,” says the chairman of the ANO representative club, Michal Kříž. Now he is in the opposition, four years ago he was Půt’s councilman. At the same time, it resembles the presumption of innocence.
He refused to answer if he would go into a coalition with the accused Půta again, saying that it depends on how the voters decide. “However, in my opinion, most voters do not even know that such a case exists,” he said. “We would all be happy if the courts normally worked faster and the case was already resolved. Whether he is guilty or innocent,” he added.