Opposition parties are calling for Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan and newly appointed head of the foreign intelligence service Petr Mlejnek to resign as the Mayors and Independents party (STAN) corruption scandal widens.
In June, STAN, the second strongest ruling coalition party, led by Rakusan, was rocked by a kickback scandal at the Prague Transportation Company involving the then Deputy Mayor of Prague Petr Hlubucek, who has since resigned his posts with the Prague municipality and the party. Police raided the offices of the Prague municipality, the Prague Transportation Company, and the Czech General Health Insurance Company, taking into custody and pressing charges against more than 10 people so far, including STAN party sponsor Michal Redl. Redl is a former business partner of the fugitive gangster Radovan Krejcir, who is currently in jail in South Africa for attempted murder.
The scandal has now widened to embroil Mlejnek, who was formally appointed the head of the Czech Office for Foreign Relations and Information (UZSI) by Rakusan on July 8. Last week Czech online outlet Seznam Zpravy reported that Mlejnek had been in regular contact with Redl since 2012.
Mlejnek has confirmed he knows Redl from his past engagement with private technological company Techniserv. “The Czech Security Agency examines these contacts, and I have been probed twice”, said Mlejnek. Seznam Zpravy points out that is unclear whether Mlejnek informed the Czech Security Agency in charge of the clearance of his contacts with Redl.
ANO, the opposition party of populist ex-premier Andrej Babis, and the far right SPD party have mounted calls for Rakusan to resign. On Saturday Babis posted on his Facebook profile that ANO will instigate a vote of confidence in the parliament “unless premier [Petr] Fiala will find the courage and decides to call off Vit Rakusan himself”, saying Mlejnek has been installed to the post by “Redl’s mafia”.
Babis reiterated the point in an article published in the daily Mlada fronta DNES, which belongs to Babis’ agro-chemical conglomerate Agrofert.
Fiala told local media he thinks that Babis wants to divert attention away from his own scandals. Babis is facing fraud charges and in the latest round of allegations, French police are probing whether he committed money laundering and tax evasion by purchasing a luxury property in the south of France through a complex offshore transaction.
“The balance of power in the parliament is quite clear”, said Fiala, pointing at the 108-strong majority of his coalition in the parliament of 200 deputies.
Rakusan said he knew of Mlejnek’s contacts with Redl but that these were strictly professional, and more importantly that Mlejnek has received security clearance from the Czech National Security Agency and Nato.
Fiala is scheduled to meet with Rakusan and discuss the situation on Tuesday. “I would have to eject him [Mlejnek] only if he did not receive the highest security clearance as stipulated by law”, Rakusan told Seznam Zpravy ahead of the meeting.
If Rakusan were to resign it would be a big blow to the STAN party, as he is its most prominent and popular figure. The scandal has severely damaged the party, a loose grouping of local mayors and others, who shot to power partly based on their campaign against corruption, which they associated with Babis. Czechia will hold Senate and municipal elections next month.
Some commentators believe it is only a matter of time before Rakusan has to sacrifice Mlejnek, otherwise he will have to resign himself.
"The decision to appoint to a key security position a man with any, even if only casual, business ties to Redl is incomprehensible. By doing so, Rakusan has nevertheless given the opposition its first real argument to support the suspicion that the Redl wing still has influence in STAN, even over the chairman and head of a key power ministry," wrote Jan Molacek in a commentary for daily Denik N.
Rakusan has been under pressure since the police raid pushed the affair to the headlines of the country’s media and prompted the resignations of STAN founding figures Petr Gazdik from the post of the minister of education and STAN deputy chair, and MEP Stanislav Polcak from the party. Head of Czech Post CEO Roman Knap was also dismissed over his alleged links to Redl.
Both politicians confirmed they had been in regular contact with Redl but denied any wrongdoing. Gazdik remains a regular legislator and STAN party member.
Recently, the relevant Czech court turned down appeals from four of the accused, including that of Hlubucek, to be released from custody, the Czech Press Agency reports.
In the past Redl has been ruled mentally unfit to face trial, something that might prevent further court proceedings in his case.