William Cabaniss

Former U.S. ambassador speaks before Czech court

Case involves dealings of H.E. William Cabaniss with former Defense Minister Martin Barták

Prague, March 17 (ČTK) — Former Tatra supervisory board head and U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic (2004–06) William Cabaniss today provided testimony for five and a half hours in the trial of former Defense Minister Martin Barták, who is facing corruption charges over the purchase of the Tatra lorries for the Czech military.

Along with Barták, arms dealer and lobbyist Michal Smrz is charged in the case.

According to the charges, Barták in his capacity as deputy defense minister attempted to influence the contract on the supply of several hundred Tatra off-road vehicles for the Czech military.

The indictment says that while on a business trip to the United States in February 2008, Barták committed bribery when unsuccessfully demanding money from Cabaniss at the Bull Run Public Shooting Center firing range in Centreville, a suburb of Washington D.C., located in the commonwealth (state) of Virginia.

With the money, the firm was to ensure a smooth course of the tenders put up by the Defense Ministry.

Cabaniss told the court today he had spoken with former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and other members of his delegation at the meeting. He said he had also met Barták who demanded the money.

Barták dismissed it. He said he did not demand a bribe. Cabaniss said today he could not recall the sum or whether it was offered in dollars or crowns.

He said he considered this statement by a deputy defense minister very unsuitable and as he did not know how to react, he left.

Cabaniss described the problems with Praga that was to deliver axles under the deal.

However, as they were faulty, Tatra terminated its contract with Praga, which caused a court dispute between the two companies.

Barták said Czech top politicians at the time wanted Praga to get some compensation for having to leave such a huge contract. He said he only defended the interests of Czech firms.

Cabaniss went on to explain why he failed to tip off the U.S. authorities about the alleged attempted bribery. He said he did not know to whom he ought to have reported the case.

Cabaniss said he did not think that the U.S. authorities could have done anything with it.

He said he had only reported the alleged bribery two years later, when reporters started taking interest in the case.

Another reason was that a new government, headed by Petr Nečas (Civic Democratic Party, ODS), was formed and it pledged to combat corruption.

Cabaniss said the firm only reported the case as bribery later, when it became a public affair.

He said Duncan Sellars, a former manager of the firm, had also heard about the bribe at the Centreville meeting. Sellars is scheduled to provide his testimony Wednesday.

According to the indictment, Smrz, owner of the MPI Group arms maker, attempted to extract money from Tatra representatives by pretending influence on and contacts with high-ranking government and Defense Ministry officials.

In January 2008, Smrz allegedly promised then Tatra director general Ronald Adams to arrange a personal meeting with Topolánek, first for 100 million Kč and later for 20 million Kč.

Both Barták and Smrz have denied any wrongdoing, calling the charges framed.

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