Opposition parties are calling on Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan and new intelligence chief Karel Mlejnek to step down as the Mayors and Independents Party (STAN) corruption scandal escalates.
In June, STAN, the second party in the ruling coalition, led by Rakusan, was rocked by a bribery scandal at the Prague Transport Company involving the then deputy mayor of Prague, Petr Hlubucek , who has since resigned from his post with the Prague Municipality and the party. . Police have raided the offices of the Municipality of Prague, the Prague Transportation Company and the Czech General Health Insurance Company, arresting and filing charges against more than 10 people so far, including STAN party sponsor Michal Redl . Redl is a former business partner of fugitive gangster Radovan Krejcir, who is currently in prison in South Africa for attempted murder.
The scandal has now widened to involve Mlejnek, who was officially named head of the Czech Foreign Relations and Information Office 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 confirmed that he knew Redl through his past involvement with private technology company Techniserv. “The Czech security agency is looking into these contacts, and I was probed twice,” Mlejnek said. Seznam Zpravy stresses that it is not clear whether Mlejnek informed the Czech security agency in charge of the clearance of his contacts with Redl.
ANO, the opposition party of populist former prime minister Andrej Babis, and the far-right SPD party have issued calls for Rakusan’s resignation. On Saturday, Babis posted on his Facebook profile that the ANO will elicit a vote of confidence in parliament “unless the Prime Minister [Petr] Fiala will find the courage and decide to cancel Vit Rakusan himself”, claiming that Mlejnek was installed in the position by “the mafia of Redl”.
Babis reiterated this point in an article published in the daily Mlada fronta DNESwhich belongs to Babis’ agrochemical conglomerate Agrofert.
Fiala told local media he believed Babis wanted to distract from his own scandals. Babis is facing charges of fraud and in the latest round of allegations, French police are investigating whether he evaded taxes by buying a luxury property in the south of France through a a complex offshore transaction.
“The balance of power in parliament is quite clear,” Fiala said, pointing to his coalition’s strong majority of 108 in the 200-MP parliament.
If Rakusan were to resign, it would be a blow to the STAN party, as he is its most prominent and popular figure. The scandal severely damaged the party, a loose grouping of local mayors and others, who came to power partly on the basis of their campaign against corruption, which they associated with Babis. Czechia will hold senatorial and municipal elections next month.
Rakusan said he was aware of Mlejnek’s contacts with Redl, but that they were strictly professional and, more importantly, that Mlejnek received the highest security clearance from the Czech National Security Agency and the NATO.
Fiala is due to meet Rakusan and discuss the situation on Tuesday. “I should eject it [Mlejnek] only if he has not received the highest security clearance as stipulated by law,” Rakusan said. Seznam Zpravy before the meeting.
Rakusan has been under pressure since the police raid pushed the case to national media headlines and prompted the resignation of STAN founders Petr Gazdik as education minister and STAN vice-president, and the MEP Stanislav Polcak from the party. Czech Post chief executive Roman Knap was also sacked over his ties to Redl.
Both politicians confirmed they had been in regular contact with Redl but denied any wrongdoing. Gazdik remains a regular legislator and member of the STAN party.
Recently, the competent Czech court rejected the appeals of four of the defendants, including that of Hlubucek, asking for their release, reports the Czech news agency.
Redl was found to be mentally ill, preventing further legal action in his case.