C’est la vie!

Philippe Riboton

THERE ARE currently 17,000 inmates in Czech prisons. Whatever they may be in for, one thing is certain: not many of them were snatched from a boardroom or a big leather chair in City Hall. Sure, we have witnessed a couple of corporate figures going for some kind of temporary internship at Pankrác or Ruzyně prison. They may have even taken advantage of the experience to improve their skills in areas ranging from accounting to laundering. In all fairness, one must admit that they were often merely sacrificial lambs in a game in which they played secondary roles. But one must also be aware that there is certainly a question of cosmetics involved here. If you rob a bank with a gun, chances are you will end up in prison. But if you rob a bank electronically by transferring its assets into some kind of sunny tax haven, you might miss winning the Banker of the Year award by a couple of votes. Similarly, if you hijack a plane by putting a knife to the pilot’s throat, you will get arrested and do time. But if you hijack a television network aided by a posse of distinguished lawyers, then you might end up on a Saturday night talk show. In the moderator’s seat. In fact fourteen years of market economy (not to say rampant capitalism) have actually not managed to erase this basic educational principle upheld during forty years of communism: if you’re not stealing from the state, you’re stealing from your family. As a result, the concept of accountability – the subject of our cover story this month – still has a long way to go. Just look at the facts. Certain bankers who approved juicy loans that they knew perfectly well would never be repaid are enjoying a quiet retirement. And some of the investigators assigned to uncover the criminal nature of those events have moved comfortably to the private sector – perhaps by simply crossing the street and going to work for those they were previously trying to build evidence against. So, when will these and other criminals be held accountable? Maybe when the average Joe stops saying “to je život”, and finally demands justice.






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