Student Agency boss Jančura lashes out at corrupt politicians, flawed competition watchdog

Radim Jančura slams ‘corrupt’ Czech politicians, lax institutions in interview that led Fin Min Miroslav Kalousek to file a slander suit

David Kasl 18.4.2012

foto: © ČESKÁ POZICEČeská pozice

Radim Jančura is one of the best known and most outspoken Czech businessmen, famous for creating a business empire with a turnover of billions of crowns from a small start-up placing Czech au-pairs abroad, Student Agency, created in the mid-1990s.

Jančura’s many ventures, which now include a travel, coach and rail business, have often involved clashes with local and national politicians, and administrations, who are not always keen to see a new competitor on the block. He is also a board member on the Anti-Corruption Endowment Fund (NFPK).

The Czech businessman of the year in 2005, speaks about some of the anti-graft fund’s recent attacks on Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Jaromír Drábek (Top 09), his rapid disillusionment with Public Affairs (VV), clashes with regional party bosses, and the failure of the Czech competition office to perform its anti-graft role. His critical comments about Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek sparked the deputy leader of TOP 09 (first published in the Czech version of this server) to start legal proceedings against him for defamation.

Q: Why did you decide to actively participate in the Anticorruption Endowment (NFPK)?

JANČURA: The fact that Karel Janeček established the fund means he put himself in the game. And naturally pressures will accrue against his company. It’s in Karel Randák that I see the beauty of the fund. He is a very industrious person — the heart of the fund – and his investigative team prepares its evidence in such a way as to prevent the affairs it looks into from being swept under the rug. As a former intelligence service head, he knows a great deal — and though there are some things he’s not allowed to discuss, he is able to perform these duties… 

Q: At the beginning of April, in relation to a new system for paying out welfare payments, you made the following sharply worded comment against [Labor Minister Jaromír Drábek] and his deputy: “Šiška, Drábek, return your kickbacks! Your business has ended.” 

JANČURA: We’re going after Minister Drábek to prevent the whole affair [of a new and flawed information systems being introduced to process labor office claims] ending up as another newspaper story about a stolen two billion; to prevent the Office for the Protection of Competition (ÚOHS) from [merely] issuing a five million crown fine in three years time to the perpetrators, essentially legalizing what transpired. And that is why we issued a recommendation on behalf of Student Agency to the anti-monopoly authority to annul the fulfilment of the contract.

And we want to take this to the point that Minister Drábek, Mr. [Vladimír] Šiška and the company Fujitsu — which programmed the new system without a public tender process on the basis of a license from Microsoft – are simply made to return the money. This includes commissions. From what I understand, Fujitsu is preparing similar scenarios for other ministries. We want to stub that out, and in this case put him in the game with Student Agency, because when you take away two billion from someone then you never know what will happen.

Q: Should the current government fall in your view as several protest movements, which have gained traction in recent weeks, are demanding? Or is it merely sufficient to secure the resignations of Jaromír Drábek and Pavel Dobeš, as you recently indicated via a survey conducted by Hospodářské noviny?

JANČURA: Minister Dobeš inappropriately sent more than half a billion crowns to Czech Railways (ČD). One could even say that it was done outside of existing contracts. This was despite the fact that we made an offer that we will operate his loss-making trains EuroCity and InterCity, but he wasn’t interested. For me, this is a person who has no interest in making savings, and that is why he has no business in this government. How can a politician who in all likelihood stole billions end up in charge of the state purse?’

Ministr Drábek and his deputy Šiška, on the other hand, are de facto thieves. When his assistant creates a two billion crown program without a tender, then his boss must surely know about that and also have his fingers in the pie. For that I need no proof.

[TOP 09 Finance Minister Miroslav] Kalousek is a chapter unto himself. We let the wealthiest person in this country – thanks to multi-billion defence contracts; thanks to an agreement to collect a toll from the company Kapsch, which is also his handiwork; thanks to software for Minister Drábek, in which, according to my information, he also has his fingers – become Minister of Finance. How can a politician who organized all this and who in all likelihood stole a few billion for himself, be in charge of the state purse? That is asinine to say the least.

Q: In a recent interview with Czech Position, Andrej Babiš [a Czech businessman and head of the Agrofert group, reportedly worth billions] said that it would be entirely beneficial for someone to run the country as a family firm. Do you agree?

‘The government is lowering expenditures at the various ministries. That is obviously a good thing. But it is also important to optimize the administrative side to make it as small as possible.’

JANČURA: Everything is about processes. Each surplus person represents a weak spot for the company and its expenses – let’s say that the costs of labor are half a million crowns per year plus the management associated with steering that. The present government is lowering expenditures at various ministries. That is obviously a good thing. But as long as it will not concurrently simplify processes, bureaucracy and administration, then people will run away from their offices, as is happening today in droves at the employment offices because they are working with an ineffective information system, which cost two billion and was patched together in four months. People are leaving [there] because they are overworked. So it is important to optimise the administration to make it as small as possible.    

That’s the way it is in every company. For example in the railways business: from what I know, even Czech Railways and all potential competitors,  there is only a difference in management between us. It’s the so-called white collar; those at the top. We have the same energy costs, and the costs of operating a train could also be the same, although Czech Railways are buying expensive trains from Škoda… which we really would rather not.

We buy the cheapest trains on the market provided we have a sufficient guarantee of reliability in order not to have 30 percent more trains in our fleet because so many are out of service… We have the same labour costs – the real difference is about how many people are in the general directorate. At Czech Railways, they get huge paychecks in that department; they’re very lucky as it’s seven times more than ours. That is the only difference, apart from what is stolen internally…

Q: Andrej Babiš apparently spoke with you soliciting support for his movement ANO 2011. Would you yourself be willing to enter politics?

JANČURA: I will never enter politics because I don’t possess the gift of the gab. I’m not that kind of ideal erudite, chatty person. I intend to spend another 10 or 15 years working at this company. But I would be really glad if Andrej Babiš sacrificed himself for this task. It is really important because a leader has to go into something like that with a full sense of service. Should Babiš go into this field, then that will be a good thing because the [former Civic Democrat, ODS, prime minister Mirek] Topolánek wing and others who are fearful of Babiš are talking nonsense saying that [businessman Roman] Janoušek is no ‘godfather,’ rather that this label applies to Babiš because he is suspiciously wealthy. But Babiš was not responsible for any notable privatizations and his property came about only through his own toil. And he is willing not to invest his property but donate it to this country by virtue of the fact that he will attempt to reorganize [the country] politically. ‘Public Affairs (VV) actually had a very good result. I voted for them too…but my eyes were soon opened when I got to know Mr. Bárta’

Q: Do you think he is hopeful of what can be achieved? When people reflect on how the Public Affairs experiment turned out…

JANČURA: Public Affairs actually turned out very well. I voted for them back then too… but my eyes were soon opened when I got to know [VV de facto chairman] Vít Bárta, who in his position of Transport Minister was only really putting on a show; he didn’t fulfil his promises and was really a very bad person. Then certain stories began to emerge such as that he wanted to turn politics into a kind of limited company…

But all of that doesn’t bother me because they were successful in uncovering many [scandals related to figures in other political parties] – probably even the recent conversations between [ex-ODS Prague mayor Pavel] Bém and Janoušek. Public Affairs will probably not exist in the future but they have fulfilled their historic duty – whatever their ambitions or motivations may have been, many things began to come to the surface thanks to them. This includes the bugging affair, which I think was perfectly legitimate to do, because it yielded such important revelations. Why shouldn’t we be able to hear what the most notable politicians in this country are discussing? So long as it actually comes to the surface and isn’t used merely for extortion.

Q: Why should people believe in Babiš of all people?

JANČURA: It is the same as with [TOP 09 pary head and Foreign Minister Karel] Schwarzenberg – he certainly isn’t in politics for the money, because he doesn’t need any. Otherwise he [Schwarzenberg] would secure for himself the restitution of [certain] castles, which he isn’t trying to do at all. Similarly with Babiš, I don’t think that he would be interested in privatizing the Czech Republic. I believe that he is the only one of the larger figures who isn’t interested in turning politics into a business endeavor. He is an old-style farmer, a food producer and the only thing that could be privatized in his sphere is [the state brewery] Budvar. And he will never buy that because it will be bought up by the owners of other trademarked brands in order to open up a market to the rest of the world. Babiš has many prerequisites for victory. But the problem is that people have to believe in and trust him that he is clean and means well. Due to his extreme wealth, he doesn’t present the ideal image. While [Czech businessman] Petr Kellner has a perfect media picture — by virtue of the fact that he is barely ever covered by it. 

Q: Would you have a problem with the Social Democrats, whom polls currently show winning in a general election, heading a future government?

JANČURA: Even though I am a right-of-center voter [albeit] with a sensitivity towards social matters, I think that if the Social Democrats (ČSSD) took over and began to reverse the VAT increases to a manageable level, then that would be an interesting development. But everything depends on what kind of social democracy it would be. There is a godfatherly side represented by [Petr] Hulinský, [Michal] Hašek, [Jaroslav] Palas and [Petr] Rafaj, which at the moment has been sidelined, but it remains strong as these people are sadly such good politicians that they can forge an agreement with anyone. They are very dangerous for social democracy. But let what should happen, happen. Let there be new elections.  

Q: Do any of the smaller or new parties have a chance to be successful at the polls? 

JANČURA: Only Mr. Babiš — in the event that he steps forward and begins to provide leadership in terms of ideasOften the collectors can be identified because their name ends with “ík”:  Dalík, Tvrdík, while in southern Moravia we have Bělčík.’ . Then he can win the elections, but he has to persuade people that he will not engage in theft. I am staking on honor and say that he will not commit theft. I am convinced of that. Sadly, right now almost everybody is engaged in theft. Even the Social Democrats do in the regions.

If it were only a matter of the largest issues, such as requesting the greatest commission of all time for Czech Railways without a public tender, these get some attention!  But, for example, South Moravian governor Michal Hašek issues a public tender for ordinary telephoning, nothing too complicated. T-Mobile wins with a 6 million crown bid; in second place is Telefónica O2 with a 12 million crown bid. And then they just throw out T-Mobile. When theft is taking place even with such “micro-commissions” then one can’t rule out anything with such people. Naturally, the [regional] governors aren’t doing this just by themselves, as they have collectors to assist them. Often the collectors can be identified because their name ends with “ík”:  [Marek] Dalík, [Jaroslav] Tvrdík, while in southern Moravia we have [Martin] Bělčík.

Q: Is there a systemic deformation happening here or is it merely ongoing competition between different power centres utilising various connections?

JANČURA: I think that right now, many taboos are crumbling. Even thanks to Public Affairs, — and many stories will still emerge. Tomáš Pitr [ a Czech businessman convicted of tax fraud] is re-entering the scene and he too could make public revelations. When people cease being afraid, they start to talk. Our fund too receives remarkable tip-offs. It is important to realise that people who steal en masse have difficulty sleeping at night. For example, Janoušek, he really has a difficult life. Many people who work under these figures – administrative officials and even loved ones are simply upset by what [they see] goes on. Today, it is they who have the opportunity to send in documents, evidence, copies of emails and so on with absolute anonymity – and the fund can then work with these – naturally, it doesn’t automatically take accusations to be proof, but rather undertakes a process of verification

Q: Several commentaries published by Czech Position have expressed the view that the fund is reviving a tradition of people becoming informants in the communist-era tradition…

‘It isn’t about being an informant, but rather a spur towards responsibility’

JANČURA: It isn’t about being an informant, but rather a spur, a warning — the responsibility of each person is to go to the police with information [of criminal wrongdoing]. Or let it be sent to the media. This is a revolutionary time, and so long as we don’t rid ourselves of the greatest muck, any forms of surveillance, evidence gathering, or informing as you call it are in these times not only morally permissible but also necessary. In Switzerland, if you stop a car somewhere to urinate in a public place, then they too will send the police after you. Is that being an informant? They just want to have order in their country, and have the rules of the road followed. That is a good thing.  

Q: You identified the head of the Office for the Protection of Competition (ÚOHS) Petr Rafaj as a member of the “godfather” wing of the Social Democrats. At the same time, his office is the one that’s dealing with your input…

JANČURA: It is textbook case and they have never worked on anything more beautiful. Czech Railways was making a loss on the Prague–Ostrava line for a long time — one only need pick up an old newspaper and the proof is right there. They had a monopoly — that is provable as they ran this line exclusively. The ÚOHS should examine precisely this. When we too began operating trains on this line as RegioJet, Czech Railways reduced their fares by 30 percent below ours, which means that they are operating even further below cost. Despite this, the ÚOHS is not addressing this case…

Q: How do you explain that? 

JANČURA: Under the management of Petr Rafaj, the ÚOHS is serving as the greatest nest of corruption, the greatest dog in the manger. Rafaj has sought to influence various administrative officials in the organisation, which he is barred from doing as its head ‘This anti-monopoly authority is incredibly important in the battle against corruption, but in reality, it is actually assisting it through actions such as these.’because he is the second port of call to turn to when one is dissatisfied with the actions of the state authorities. Rafaj operates as a figurehead and can be influenced externally. For example, he allowed Czech Railways to purchase Railjet trains from Siemens for five billion crowns without a public tender process.

That was the handiwork of Mr. Janoušek, who was going around Prague boasting that within a week, an official — some Mr. Rudolecký or other — will fly out and Czech Railways will be able to buy the Railjets, from which he in all likelihood got a commission and shared it with the management, without a tender process. (Kamil Rudolecký was dismissed by Rafaj last August from his post as deputy head of the ÚOHS. According to Mladá fronta Dnes this was related to the sale of trains to Czech Railways – Ed.) In the end, even the mighty Škoda was unable to influence this process. This anti-monopoly authority is incredibly important in the battle against corruption, but in reality, it is actually assisting it through actions such as these.