Czech court throws out treason charges against ex-president Klaus

PRAGUE Wed Mar 27, 2013 2:58pm EDT

Czech Republic's President Vaclav Klaus passes his bag to a staff member as he leaves for a break during a plenary session on the second day of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Vientiane November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Czech Republic's President Vaclav Klaus passes his bag to a staff member as he leaves for a break during a plenary session on the second day of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Vientiane November 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - A Czech court threw out treason charges against former President Vaclav Klaus on Wednesday, clearing the euroskeptic politician of accusations that marred his final days in office and underlined the deep divisions he left in society.

Klaus was impeached by the upper house of parliament, the Senate, on March 4, in a dramatic but mostly symbolic vote. It accused him of violating the constitution by refusing to sign European treaties and by granting an amnesty that freed thousands of prisoners and halted dozens of fraud prosecutions.

The biggest punishment he faced was losing office. But given that his second consecutive five-year term expired on March 7, he was threatened only by a milder punishment of losing a pension and not being able to run for the presidency again.

The Constitutional Court rejected the charges on procedural grounds, namely that the 71-year-old could not be tried because he was no longer in office.

"The Constitutional Court did not find room to continue the proceedings after the end of the president's term, and therefore halted the case," the court said on its website.

A 'guilty' verdict would have been a blow to the legacy of the right-wing economist who has proved self-conscious about his image, especially compared with the reverence enjoyed by his late predecessor Vaclav Havel.

Even some opponents of Klaus, who polarized opinion with his euroskeptic views and his siding with Russia in international diplomacy, said a treason charge was going too far.

A spokesman for the conservative ex-president welcomed the court decision. "This case was a warning example of how low the level and means of politics can drop in our country," he said.

Klaus was credited for successful macroeconomic reforms in the early 1990s, and for the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia at the end of 1992 at a time when the break-up of Yugoslavia led to a series of bloody wars.

But his refusal to privatize banks and regulate the capital market led to widespread asset-stripping and an economic crisis in 1997, which brought him down as prime minister.

A year later he struck a power-sharing deal with the biggest leftist party, which critics say brought a period of corruption in the public sphere.

The amnesty Klaus granted in January this year angered most in the nation of 10.5 million and knocked his approval ratings to all-time lows below 30 percent. More than 6,000 prisoners jailed for minor offences were released.

He has made clear he will retain public presence and has not ruled out running for a seat next year in his great enemy's lair - the European Parliament.

(Editing by Pravin Char)

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