Czech High Court softens verdict against Romani NGO director for falsifying data
Today the High Court in Prague relaxed the original sentence of six years in prison handed down for subsidy fraud and falsifying official documents against Ladislav Bílý, the head of the Roma Civic Association (Romské občanské sdružení - ROS) in Karlovy Vary, shortening it to a three-year suspended sentence with five years' probation. The court upheld the first-instance ban on Bílý running any other nonprofits as well as the suspension of his driver's license.
The court did not grant the defendant's request to be fully acquitted of the first-instance verdict. Judge Josef Mazák said the High Court had found no errors committed by the Regional Court in Plzeň, which called for Bílý to spend six years in prison.
Judge Mazák did, however, consider the first-instance court's punishment to be excessive. "The options for the defendant to correct himself can now be considered preserved," the judge said when explaining his decision.
The High Court judge noted that Bílý did not enrich himself through the criminal activity committed. Therefore, he also does not have to repay the damages caused of approximately CZK 10 million.
The prosecution claimed Bílý had been awarded subsidies from Karlovy Vary municipality, the Karlovy Vary Regional Authority, and the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry for several years on a fraudulent basis for the activities and operation of the Roma Civic Association. The association did not actually meet all of the necessary conditions for receiving public funds.
The court said Bílý submitted falsified official documents with his subsidy application, namely, falsified confirmations of solvency from the health insurance program, the revenue office, and the social security authority. Karlovy Vary filed criminal charges against the association two years ago for submitting untrue information on an application for a subsidy to perform social work in the field in 2010.
The association's assets were later confiscated by collections agents. The prosecution has reportedly cost Bílý his livelihood and he says he is currently living on a disability pension amounting to CZK 4 600 monthly.
Bílý's attorney, Robert Pelikán, suggested that the High Court acquit Bílý of the charges. He argued that at the time Bílý sought the subsidy from the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry back taxes were owed, but he had taken legal steps in that regard and those proceedings were still underway.
For the subsidies from the municipality and the Regional Authority, proof of solvency was not a condition. Reportedly such information was simply a criterion that could be considered but was not required.
"He doesn't belong in prison. He made a mistake, but for understandable reasons," Pelikán argued.
The state prosecutor had no doubt about Bílý's guilt but also wanted to relax his punishment to the lower end of the scale, which is five years in prison. He said Bílý did not use the subsidy for a purpose other than the one it had been awarded for, but did use it to pay off the association's debts.
The state prosecutor also emphasized that the Karlovy Vary Regional Authority had previously requested Bílý return a subsidy given to the association for a Romani education center project that was never implemented. He also reminded the court that Bílý had previously been convicted of reckless endangerment under the influence of addictive substances and that despite having his driver's license suspended, police had caught him behind the wheel three times, which had previously earned him a conviction for obstructing an official decision.
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