Vlasta Parkanová (TOP 09) resigned on Wednesday as deputy speaker of the House after MPs lifted her parliamentary immunity so she can be prosecuted over alleged negligence in signing a contract to buy CASA transport planes for the Czech Army — which were allegedly unneeded and deliberately overpriced by at least Kč 658 million. Former police investigator and Czech Position commentator Zdeněk Ondráček explains how her prosecution could ultimately lead to higher levels of responsibility for the nation’s politicians.
I have followed with great interest the political debate over the past month following the request from the Czech anti-corruption and financial crime police unit (ÚOKFK) to strip Parkanová of immunity from prosecution. It was clear to me from the outset that the case is not about the vote but rather the precedent and which politicians, past or present, could be next. The police needed to hook a relatively small fish to test their strength and the political climate.
After the arrest of opposition MP David Rath (Social Democrats, ČSSD), the former regional governor of Central Bohemia allegedly caught red-handed taking a Kč 7 million cash bribe related to plot to overcharge for the partly EU-funded reconstruction of a chateau in Buštěhrad, and his release for prosecution, came that of Parkanová. A well-planned political tit for tat, but more are yet to come. At least we can hope so.
Every Czech voter can name numerous cases of alleged corruption that merit police investigation and a public examination of the facts, even if it would prove impossible to put criminal responsibility on individual politicians. The politicians, of course, are well aware of this and are doing their best to politicize each case as a witch hunt.
The most vocal advocate on Parkanová’s behalf has been Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, her party colleague. He has gone to remarkable lengths in this regard.
First, Kalousek managed through his ministry and then via the Czech Institute of State and Law to have it a matter of public record that the former defense minister had not been legally obliged to get an independent opinion on the value of the four CASA transport planes, which the ÚOKFK, based on an assessment by the private firm American Appraisal, were overpriced by at least Kč 658 million. Be that as it may, she did not carry out due diligence.
Next, the finance minister (himself a former deputy defense minister responsible for budget and acquisitions from 1993–1998) went further and directly telephoned an investigators in the CASA case who says Kalousek tried to intimidate him, saying he would be fired if he didn’t behave (a charge that the minister, who says he was in fact returning the call and offering additional information, flatly rejects).
Personally, I would be strongly inclined to take the investigator at his word — not because I am myself a former one but because I know how people in power tend to behave in such situations. Out of political arrogance Kalousek then called for the General Inspectorate of Law-enforcement Bodies to investigate the matter."Last week, I was accused and scandalized with the false claim that I threatened over the phone an investigator of the CASA case,” Kalousek said.”After taking into account all circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that is not enough just to dismiss the slander verbally.”
Kalousek’s statement “I firmly believe that there is an authentic and unedited recording of the interview in question” is outrageous. Does he really believe all calls in this country are recorded? Does he imagine that a court order is in place allowing for the automatic wiretapping and recording of all calls to and from that number? Of course not: He knows full well that only he and the investigator know what was discussed.
The coalition government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS) pledged that it would not tolerate corruption in any form. Why then was it such a problem to allow Parkanová to defend herself in court? Does it have no trust in the independence of the judicial system? In fact, the step can be considered a great leap to a true Western-style democracy. I believe it can also serve to boost the confidence of the police, prosecutors and courts. I hope it will result in greater accountability among politicians and state officials.