Vlasta Parkanová (TOP 09) resigned on Wednesday as deputy speaker of the House after MPs voted 117 to 45 (with 14 abstentions) to lift her parliamentary immunity so that she can be prosecuted over a contract to buy CASA transport planes for the Czech Army, which were allegedly unneeded and deliberately overpriced by at least Kč 658 million.
Parkanová, who served as defense minister from 2007 to 2009, will be tried for allegedly violating her fiduciary duties regarding the purchase of four CASA C-295M planes from Spanish aircraft maker EADS, a subsidiary of Airbus Military. She has become the first Czech politician to be subjected to criminal prosecution for something that occurred while serving in the cabinet.
Parkanová had signed off on the Kč 3.6 billion deal on the day before she was replaced as minister by Martin Barták (Civic Democrats, ODS) — who later came under investigation for having allegedly solicited a bribe from former US ambassador William J. Cabaniss after the latter joined the Tatra truck maker. As Czech Position reported in October 2011, a market study showed that the Czech Republic could have obtained four CASA transport planes from the EADS consortium for Kč 2.83 billion back in 2006.
“I dismiss any allegations of any criminal act,” said Parkanová. Although she has previously acknowledged that the Czech Army may not have gotten the best deal, the law did not oblige her to have an external expert opinion on the price drafted.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09) — her fiercest and most outspoken advocate and himself a former deputy defense minister responsible for budget and acquisitions (1993–1998) — had argued it was absurd to look to prosecute only one minister when the entire Cabinet approved the CASA deal.
Furthermore, Kalousek said the Czech anti-corruption and financial crime police unit ÚOKFK’s appraisal of the CASA deal, based on the work of a private company, completely lacked credibility. It was prepared by the American Appraisal, which describes itself as a leading global provider of evaluating and consultancy services for commercial, financial, legal, taxation and court purposes.
Defending Parkanová during Wednesday’s debate, Kalousek said that although the firm had the word “American” in its name, it was in fact an obscure outfit and “headed by a purely Czech former member of the Communist-era StB secret service.” He called the appraisal “absolute rubbish.”
The cabinet of Mirek Topolánek (ODS) in April 2009 approved a proposal to trade five Czech L-159 fighters, which the army had been trying to unload for years, for a CASA transport plane, but to buy the other three well above market price. Whereas the original basic price per unit stood at Kč 638 million, suddenly it shot to nearly Kč 1.2 billion following the partial barter deal. Just how the total contract price was arrived has not been made public.
There have long been suspicions regarding the CASA deal. In September 2010 — a month before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg began looking into allegations of corruption related to the purchase (which the European Commission later investigated for breaching public procurement rules, as it was done without a tender).