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The trial of Petr Donatek, a 46-year-old Czech man alleged to have hired two martial artists to attack Thai political refugees in Paris in 2019 has finally taken place. During the proceedings, Donatek insisted that he was not the one who planned the attack. A verdict is expected on 2 March.

From left to right: Nithiwat Wannasiri, Aum Neko

The trial in Paris was postponed twice due to difficulties in securing an interpreter,  The suspect is a Czech-certified swordmaster, world vice-champion in sword cutting, and president of the Czech Toyama-ryu federation (Toyama-ryu is a Japanese system of swordsmanship).

He was initially convicted in absentia for having hired two Czech henchmen, Jakub Hosek and Daniel Vokal, to attack Thai political refugees Aum Neko (Sarun Chuichai) and Jom Faiyen (Nithiwat Wannasiri) in Paris on 17 November 2019. The incident happened at the entrance of a Paris brasserie, Le Zinc. At the time of the assault, Donatek was reportedly watching from Le Primerose, a bar just in front of Le Zinc.  After the assault, he returned home  to the Czech Republic.

His henchmen were arrested, found guilty and sentenced to 26 months in jail on 23 November 2021.  They have already been released.  Donatek, who they named, was sentenced in absentia to 30 months in jail.  Aware of the proceedings, he claimed that he had contracted Covid and was unable to the trial.  Denying responsibility for the attack, he also appealed the verdict.  Believing that his sentence was too lenient, the public prosecutor did the same.

Last year, while travelling in Italy with his family, he was detained because of an arrest warrant issued by French authorities in 2021. Arrested in August, he was sent to France last October. Since then he has been jailed in Fresnes, a suburb of Paris.  His long-awaited appeal hearing finally took place at a courthouse in downtown Paris on 1 February.

The hearing lasted approximately 6 hours. Apart from the Thai victims, no one raised questions about who might have contracted Donatek to plan the attack. Donatek denied any involvement in the incident. He acknowledged he traveled together with Vokal and Hosek, joining them at Le Primerose. He also claimed that he left Le Primerose and went back to his hotel before the assault.

Videos recordings from cameras in Le Zinc and in the Primerose, including the first few seconds of the assault, were examined at length. Donatek was seen taking pictures in one of the videos.  He claimed he was taking a selfie and pictures of lamp posts in the street, not recording the attack, which he insists happened after he had gone back to his hotel. He claimed he has nothing to do with the incident.

The court was comprised of 3 judges, including its president. Here an excerpt of the proceedings:

The president (P): Despite recanting his confession, Hosek declared the attack had been planned. Do you agree?

Donatek (D): I didn’t take any part in this assault.

P: On Nov 11, 2019 you asked Vokal to install Signal [a secure messaging service] on his phone. Why?

D: I don't remember, as I don't use Signal.

P: What was the purpose of installing Signal?

D: I don't have the slightest idea.

P: Do you acknowledge your nickname on Signal is Gateway?

D: I don't. I don't know who that is.

P: You mention Action Paris on Whatsapp, why?

D: In Czech, the word "action" has many different meaning, it can mean "event".

P: Why was it mentioned in this conversation?

D: I set up a group on Whatsapp in order to organise the trip to Paris, to book the plane tickets and so on.

P: You posted some pics and you said [according to the official translation] "it's operational information".

Czech interpreter: I would have translated it as "practical" instead of "operational"

P: At first, Hosek declared that your role was to monitor the assault and that you were in charge of the financial part of it. What do you say to this?

D: It's the first time I have heard this.

P: Why did you buy plane tickets and hotel rooms for Vokal and Hosek?

D: They didn't have credit cards or bank accounts and we were traveling together.

P: Why did you pay for them?

D: It was their money; they gave me cash to do the booking.

P: What's your opinion about the political situation in Thailand?

D: I don't have any.

P: Are you involved in politics?

D: Absolutely not.

P: On Oct 6, 2019 you were already in Paris with Vokal during a first trip with him. You warned him about a group of 7 people including 4 Thais who were standing with guitars at the entrance of a building.  You said that the target was not there. What did you mean?

D: I can't remember

P: All those elements suggest a premeditated attack.

D: I understand, but I didn't plan any of this.

Lawyer for the Thai victims: Did you attend the incident?

D: No, had I been there, I would remember.

Lawyer for the Thai victims: Why did you record a video?

D: I didn't

Lawyer for Donatek: Why did Vokal retract his accusations during the fist trial?

D: I don't know

P: What's your occupation?

D: I'm a financial director for a few firms. I earn about 6000€/month. Some 20 years ago, I worked as a policeman in an anti-narcotics brigade, from 1996 to 2005. I have three degrees related to law, the environment, international relations and Japanese culture.

P: Do you have much free time?

D: I'm very busy. My free time is spent on martial arts and things related to Japan.

One of the judges:  Do you belong to the Heraldic Brotherhood for the Protection of the Royal Order?

D: Yes, but I'm a member of other Orders too.  They are charities.

The same judge: Why are you interested in Mr Okamura [the leader of a radical right-wing Czech political party]?

D: I'm not interested in him. I know he is politically active, but I'm not concerned with this. I have friends from many different backgrounds, such as deputies who belong to different political parties.

Lawyer for Donatek: Czech authorities claimed they could not transfer you to France because you are involved in another case?

D: Yes I was framed when I was in the police.  The case has been pending for some time.

Lawyer for Donatek: Why would you come to France to organise an assault?

D: This situation is absurd. I didn’t do all those things.  I know there are cameras everywhere and that purchases with credit card can easily been traced.

Aum Neko : Why did you study international politics? What's your political involvement?

D: I'm not a nationalist. I would say I position myself at the centre, neither left nor right.

Lawyer for the Thai victims: He denies everything but we can see him taking a video; there is no doubt of his presence during the assault.

Public prosecutor: There is an accumulation of evidence indication that the assault was planned. On Nov 15, 2019 Donatek sent pictures of the future victims, asked his accomplices to monitor them and wait until night time to attack them.  He kept watch over the incident when it happened. He says he came to Paris as a tourist and he can't explain why Hosek charged him, and why he paid for his trip. Confronted with the facts, he can’t answer. I request that he be given a 5 years jail sentence.

Lawyer for Donatek: Since the beginning, he has insisted he is not guilty. The videos provide no evidence of his presence during the attack. Why would he come to Paris to assault somebody? Maybe he has been framed. Maybe Hosek named him because he wanted to be released from jail. He gave the answers expected from him. All this is absurd. I ask for an acquittal. And if you sentence him, take into account his clean criminal record and his family situation.  He has 4 children.

The president: Mr Donatek would you like to say something more?

D: Thank you, I'm very tired.

P: The decision will be given on March 2nd

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