Czech corruption continued
Jul 9th 2012, 18:55 by B.C. | Prague
AMID signs of a continued struggle between lawmakers and the judiciary, Miroslav Kalousek, the Czech finance minister, is denying reports he threatened a police detective investigating a member of his own party for signing-off on a questionable military contract in 2009. Police are pushing to prosecute Vlasta Parkanová over the purchase of four CASA transport planes that was allegedly overpriced by 658 million Czech crowns. She has denied all wrongdoing.
Mr Kalousek and Ms Parkanová are longstanding colleagues. Ms Parkanová served as defence minister in the 2006-2009 coalition government of Mirek Topolánek when Mr Kalousek was already finance minister. She and Mr Kalousek were members of the Christian Democratic Party at the time, before both joined TOP 09, the newly formed centre-right party, at its 2009 inception.
Mr Kalousek has admitted to contacting detectives by phone, but insists he made no threats and has since requested that any documentation of the call be made public. “I was accused and scandalised with the false claim that I threatened an investigator over the phone,” he said. “After taking into account all circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that is not enough to just dismiss the slander verbally."
As a member of parliament, Ms Parkanová enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution. Parliament’s lower house must vote to revoke immunity and is slated to take up the issue this month. Speaking on state television in early July, Petr Nečas, the prime minister, urged Ms Parkanová to voluntarily waive her protection. She has thus far refused.
The premier criticised Mr Kalousek for contacting police and pledged to sack any cabinet member who does something similar in the future. But Mr Kalousek, the de facto leader of TOP 09, has the ability to bring down Mr Nečas’ tenuous centre-right coalition and thus the prime minister is treading lightly. The opposition Social Democrats are calling for Mr Kalousek’s resignation.
Mr Kalousek has publicly defended Ms Parkanová. Police allege that she did not seek expert opinions before signing the 3.5 billion Czech crown contract. The four planes have broken-down several times in the interim. Ms Parkanová faces abuse of power charges should parliament clear her for prosecution.
The Parkanová case comes against the backdrop of related developments—including the sacking of the justice minister, and a continued struggle over who will be appointed as chief prosecutor in Prague, which is the jurisdiction most often investigating alleged wrongdoing by parliamentarians. The country’s top prosecutor Pavel Zeman met with Pavel Blažek, the new justice minister, for the first time today. Mr Zeman reiterated his support for Lenka Bradáčová, a prosecutor credited with launching the biggest corruption prosecution against David Rath, the deputy chairman of the Social Democrats, earlier this year.
Ms Bradáčová is presently head of the prosecutor’s office in the northern city of Ústí nad Labem, where several officials were recently detained as part of an investigation into missing European Union funds. The possibility of something similar in the national parliament, associated with graft by much of the public, has some in the political establishment very worried. Mr Kalousek’s call to investigators is unlikely to be the last time politics and the police will be too close for comfort.