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Karel Vas: Notorious communist prosecutor

Karel Vas, who died on 8 December at the age of 96, was a prosecutor who came to symbolise unlawful trials during the post-1948 communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. Vas was one of the state prosecutors who played a key role in show trials that used fabricated evidence to hand out death sentences to opponents of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Vas was born in March 1916, in the city of Uzhorod in what is now Ukraine. He joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia when he was 17. During the Second World War he moved to the Soviet Union, where he began to collaborate with Josef Stalin's much-feared secret police, the NKVD.

Back in Czechoslovakia after the war he oversaw more than 100 prosecutions in which he imposed dozens of death sentences, of which 12 were carried out. In 1951 he was arrested himself and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of treason and espionage; he was acquitted in 1956.

In 2001, Vas was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the case of a leading anti-Nazi fighter, General. Heliodor Pika, who was executed in 1949. Vas was accused of inserting a fake document into Pika's file that served as evidence that he worked for British intelligence. But he escaped jail thanks to the statute of limitations.