A week after Czech PM Petr Nečas was derided for claiming his government has done more to fight corruption in its 18 months in power than was done in the previous 10 years, the tabloid Blesk on Thursday launched an online petition calling upon the police and judiciary services to thoroughly investigate corruption scandals — and published a list of “top 20” most-corrupt politicans and businessmen.
Blesk, which has nearly twice the readership of the leading broadsheet Mláda fronta Dnes, said it had polled 50,000 people asking them who they thought were the greatest scoundrels among Czech politicians and lobbyists whom the police and public prosecution have yet to bring to justice. Without giving poll figures, the tabloid said former Social Democrat (ČSSD) prime minister Stanislav Gross is “indisputably the king of corruption in the eyes of the Czech people.”
‘If just one of them were incriminated it would cause a domino effect, because those who rule the Czech Republic hold each other by the neck’ The article paints a concise and grim picture of the extent and basic structure of corruption in Czech politics. “The police, the state prosecution service, and the courts: corrupt politicians, businessmen and lobbyists have their people everywhere there [in those organs] covering their backs. They have managed to create a perfect mafia environment for their nefarious practices. They can do almost as they like and get away with it without punishment,” Blesk writes.
The tabloid symbolically placed the 20 politicians who ranked in their poll behind bars in a series of photomontages with short summaries of the most prominent unresolved scandals in which they have been implicated. Those who ranked in the poll are:
- Stanislav Gross — the former prime minister and Social Democrat chairman, now a practicing lawyer. Gross as forced to resign in 2005 after he failed to explain where he got the money to pay for his luxury Prague apartment on a government salay. He then bought Kč 20 million worth of shares in the firm Moravia Energo from a onetime deputy trade and industry minister, partly with money borrowed from the dubious investment firm Key Investments, which has since lost its broker’s license and is under police investigation. A year and a half later, Gross sold the shares for Kč 110 million.
- Vít Bárta (Public Affairs, VV) — former transport minister forced to step down over in-party bribery scandal and recordings in which he reveals that he intended to use political power to win business and enrich the security firm ABL which he founded.
- Aleš Řebíček (Civic Democrats, ODS) – transport minister from 2006 to 2009. The construction firm, Viamont, in which he had a large stake, won public tenders with a value of at least Kč 3.5 billion when he was minister. Founded in 1992, the firm has won most of its business from the public sector. Řebíček recently admitted he sold his stake in the firm for Kč 750 million.
- Pavel Němec (formerly Freedom Union (US)–Democratic Union (DEU) — served as justice minister in coalition government with the Social Democrats. Against the will of the Highest State Prosecutor at the time, Marie Benešová (ČSSD), and experts from his own ministry, Němec secured the repatriation of Qatari prince, Hamid Bin Abdul Sani al-Thani, sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in the Czech Republic for paying for sex with underage girls. Němec denies having any contacts with the Qatari royal family or ever visiting the country, but in 2006 he had a lavish wedding in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Benešová was allegedly removed from the post of Supreme State Prosecutor at the bequest of Němec. Benešová later accused Němec, her successor, Renata Vesecká, and other figures in the justice system of being part of a “judicial mafia” which illegally intervened in a number of legal cases.
- Jaroslav Palas (ČSSD) – served as agriculture minister from 2002 through 2005, during which time he oversaw the sale of the large state-controlled agricultural conglomerate Setuza to the underworld figures František Mrázek, who was shot dead in 2006, and Tomáš Pitr, who is now awaiting extradition from Switzerland to serve a six-year prison term.
- Ivo Rittig – Prague lobbyist who, as revealed several days ago, collected 17 hellers on every Prague public transport ticket sold under a dubious contract between the Prague Transportation Company (DPP) and the company Neograph through a British Virgin Islands-registered company.
- Roman Janoušek – a close associate of former Prague mayor Pavel Bém (ODS), the controversial lobbyist is rumored to be behind numerous murky public contracts. In 2008 alone the largest Czech health insurer paid Janoušek’s firms Kč 120 million for publishing a free magazine and other media and PR “services.”
- Marek Dalík – lobbyist and close friend of former prime minister Mirek Topolánek (ODS). Among others, Dalík allegedly demanded a bribe of €18 million to ensure Topolánek’s government approved a Defense Ministry order for Pandur armored personnel carriers (APCs).
- Miloslav Vlček – former ČSSD MP in 2005 secured a Kč 25 million state grant to finance the renovation of a public sports center in Harrachov in the Krkonoš Mountains, northern Bohemia, which was then used to renovate a hotel which was then put on the market for Kč 120 million.
- Martin Barták (ODS) –former deputy defense minister and defense minister implicated in a number of suspect military acquisitions worth billions of crowns. Earlier this week he was formally charged with soliciting a bribe in connection with a delivery of Tatra trucks for the military.
- Martin Kocourek (ODS) – recently resigned as minister of industry and trade after it emerged he had transferred Kč 16 million to his mother.
- Jiří Besser (TOP 09) – resigned his post as culture minister on Thursday after it emerged he had failed to declare his share in the firm Comoros Group through which he owned property in Florida — a violation of conflict of interest law. His partner in the firm, Pavel Hrách, has a conviction for corruption and another for fraud.
- Michal “toothless” Babák (VV) – Gave millions in contributions to his party, which he claimed he borrowed against collateral of shares in a company whose name he managed to forget. Declared an income of Kč 200,000 a month, three properties, but not shares with a value of Kč 30 million to Kč 40 million.
- Petr Benda – assistant and close associate of former ČSSD leader Jiří Paroubek, Benda was an illegal money changer during the communist regime and later operated a number of discos. Was allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade, though no concrete evidence emerged. Owns dozens of properties in and around Teplice, northern Bohemia.
- Pavel Bém (ODS) – although there is a lack of evidence a whole range of suspect public contracts were signed when he was Prague mayor, including the Opencard project, and the Blanka road tunnel, the price of which experts say is grossly inflated. According to Blesk, Bém should be remanded in custody awaiting the outcome of investigations into alleged corruption.
- Alexandr Vondra (ODS) – the serving Minister of Defense is suspected of involvement in the ProMoPro affair, whereby the firm ProMoPro received exuberant sums for providing audiovisual and interpreting services to the government during the Czech Republic’s presidency of the EU in 2009. Vondra was deputy prime minister for EU affairs at the time, but no evidence has emerged implicating Vondra, a dissident during the communist era.
- Patrik Oulický (ODS) – labeled as one of the ODS “godfathers,” Oulický built a Kč 30 million house on protected land without planning permission, yet was not even fined. Owns a construction firm which reportedly makes most of its money from public tenders.
- Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09) – the Minister of Finance’s wife reportedly received a Prague apartment for Kč 6.5 million in exchange for an IOU. Kalousek is known to be a close friend of billionaire arms dealer Richard Háva, who now lives in Switzerland and is rumored to have financed TOP 09.
- Tomáš Hrdlička – Prague lobbyist, frequently referred to as the “gray eminence” of the ODS party in Prague. Tomáš Hrdlička owns a chain of petrol stations. “He established his business by installing his people in prominent positions in the state administration,” Blesk wrote.
- Mirek Topolánek (ODS) – the former prime minister, who has earned a reputation for swearing at and assaulting journalists who he most recently referred to as “little fuckers,” sends his son to the expensive American School in Prague, lives in a luxury apartment in central Prague, and buys expensive items such as BMWs for his family members, but it is unknown where is money comes from. Famously pictured naked in the company of several women at Silvio Berlusconi’s villa on Sardinia.
According to Blesk, many of the figures above should be remanded in custody while the allegations against them are thoroughly investigated.
In a recent STEM poll, 93% of respondents said they consider corruption to be a serious problem The daily says that a major part of the problem of corruption in Czech politics is the principle of mutual incrimination: “If just one of them were incriminated it would cause a domino effect, because those who rule the Czech Republic hold each other by the neck. Everybody has something on everybody else, and each of them is bound to someone for something. And the police are also involved in this circle,” the daily writes.
Blesk calls upon its readers to sign an online petition calling on the police to and judicial authorities to investigate the prominent cases of suspected corruption:
“We demand the police and judiciary to not let themselves be influenced by the powerful in this country and to diligently investigate the corruption scandals which poke us in the eye and insult our sense for rights and justice,” Blesk appeals to its readers.
With the article and petition, the tabloid is clearly catering to growing public discontent with domestic politics and corruption scandals.
In an opinion poll conducted by the public opinion research agency STEM in June this year, 93 percent of respondents said they consider corruption to be a serious problem in the Czech Republic, 83 percent said they believe the majority of officials in the public administration to be corrupt, and 73 percent said they perceive the level of corruption here to be higher than in Western Europe. Only 24 percent said they believed progress has been made in recent years in investigating and punishing cases of embezzlement, assets stripping [“tunneling”] and corruption.