No-confidence move over corruption probe threatens Czech PM

PRAGUE,  (Reuters) – The Czech Republic’s leading opposition party said today it would call a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Petr Necas unless he quit over a corruption investigation in which some of his closest associates have been charged.

Police raids on government offices yesterday signalled the most significant swoop on corruption in two decades in a country that became a beacon of liberty with its “Velvet Revolution” against Communism in 1989, but has since been mired in sleaze.

Prosecutors have charged seven people, including the head of Necas’s office, two military intelligence service members, and two former members of parliament, high state attorney Ivo Istvan told a news conference.

They did not say exactly what offences they were investigating, but they said their suspicions focused on two main areas: allegations that officials used the intelligence services for inappropriate purposes, and that corrupt favours were given to politicians.

The crisis deepened after a lawyer for one of the people detained in the raids said his client was accused of instructing intelligence agents to spy on Necas’s wife, a week after the prime minister said he was divorcing her.

“The Social Democrats expect the speedy resignation of Prime Minister Petr Necas and the entire government. If that does not happen, the Social Democrats will initiate a vote of no confidence,” said party official Jeronym Tejc.

Necas has denied involvement in any dishonest activity and has said he is not considering resignation. But Necas’s position is fragile because his party lacks a solid majority in parliament and has already come close to falling several times.

He told parliament on Friday that as far as the allegations of corrupt favours to politicians were concerned, this was normal political activity and not a criminal act. On the allegations about misusing intelligence services, he said the allegations seemed to be the result of a misunderstanding.

“This is my opinion that I have no reason to back off from, and it is an opinion that leads me not to heed calls … to resign,” Necas said.

The fate of Necas, the longest serving prime minister in the politically tumultuous country of 10.5 million in a decade, may lie in the hands of his coalition partners, who say so far they are reserving judgement.

PRESIDENT MAY TARGET NECAS

President Milos Zeman, a political opponent of the prime minister, could also try to use his limited constitutional powers to push Necas out.

Czech prosecutors said they had charged seven people after a sweep of government and private offices on Thursday by officers with the police’s organised crime unit, some in balaclavas.

Giving details of the investigation for the first time, prosecutors from the provincial town of Olomouc, who are leading the case, said they had started out investigating an organised crime ring but found links to political circles.

Istvan said the case had been entrusted to his office because his superiors feared that moles inside the prosecutor’s office in the capital might leak their plans – a hint of how far sleaze has penetrated the Czech administration.

Among those detained was Jana Nagyova, head of Necas’s office who has acted effectively as his personal assistant for many years. Her office declined to comment. Necas said earlier he did not believe she had done anything wrong.

Ondrej Palenik, a former head of military intelligence, is another of those who has been charged in the operation, according to his lawyer, Tomas Sokol.

Sokol told Reuters via text message that prosecutors were accusing Palenik of arranging surveillance of the prime minister’s wife, Radka, in October last year. “The how and the what were not evident from the charges,” the lawyer said.

Necas announced last week that he was divorcing his wife, who had been his college sweetheart.

The Czech president was due to meet Necas later today, and Zeman’s office said the outcome was open.

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