Sentences were handed down on Monday in what has been described as one of the biggest cases of organised crime in the Czech Republic, that of the so-called Berdych gang, an infamous criminal grouping named after alleged ringleader David Berdych. On Monday nineteen members of the gang, including former police officers, were given a total of 118 years in prison for crimes including, kidnapping, armed robbery and criminal conspiracy.
Monday, January 15th: one of the guilty parties shouts in denial before being led away, following rulings in one the biggest organised crime cases in Czech history: nineteen found guilty in the Berdych gang case. Sentences given range from less than ten, to up to fourteen years in prison, amounting to a total of 118 years. Most notoriously, two of those found guilty were former police officers with the country's anti-organised crime unit, who were supposed to have been investigating the gang, but switched sides. In the years 1999 to 2001 they helped the gang cover its footsteps and commit numerous crimes for a reported thirty percent cut of the profit. They provided members with police uniforms as well as search warrants and other documents. Posing as police commandos, gang members were able to arrest and kidnap Czech businessmen, who were subsequently forced to raise ransoms for their release.
There's little doubt it was precisely the involvement of elite police officers that enabled the gang to come up with more elaborate and daring schemes. A little earlier I spoke to state prosecutor Tomas Milec, involved in the case:
"Two out of three policemen who were found guilty actively took part in the crimes and had a direct impact. They helped point out potential victims among a certain group of businessmen. They also provided uniforms and police documents and I think most importantly they promised to help gang members by informing them about, or helping to thwart, police investigations.
"It's understood that police involvement in a case like this one makes it easier for a gang to commit crimes, and makes it harder to accumulate evidence. There is also a great impact on the public's trust, since the public counts on the police to protect them. At the same time, I do think that this case was highly unusual."
In all, some 50 people were charged in a number of cases in connection with the gang's activities and not all verdicts have been delivered. Those sentenced on Monday have already lodged an appeal. Also, the latest ruling did not in any way impact gang leader David Berdych, found guilty earlier for armed robbery and given a fifteen year maximum sentence. He has also been found guilty of numerous other crimes.
Looking back, the gang's legacy is a gruesome one: illegally accumulating the equivalent of 4.6 million US dollars through dozens of criminal acts targeting various individuals. Not all of those targeted escaped with their lives: one man died after being repeatedly run over by a car. In another case, a victim's body has never been found.