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Seven accused in high-level Czech scandal

by KAREL JANICEK Associated Press on June 15, 2013 10:10 AM

PRAGUE — A multi-pronged scandal involving the prime minister’s top aide, his estranged wife, military spy chiefs, former ruling party lawmakers and kilograms of gold raised unanswered questions Friday about the troubled government of Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas.

Nobody outside the halls of Czech power seems to know what’s going on or how the rapidly moving developments are connected, but a list of them reads like elements in a spy novel:

• The Czech military was spying on the prime minister’s estranged wife.

• Millions of dollars and a stash of gold bars were seized by hooded police in 31 overnight raids nationwide.

• Seven people have been charged with abuse of power or corruption, according to prosecutors.

Czechs, who have grown used to high-level corruption scandals since the fall of communism in 1989 — including a former defense minister asking the U.S. ambassador for a $5 million bribe — are watching the developments with bewilderment.

Czech police and prosecutors said Friday they believe Necas’ closest aide ordered a military intelligence agency to illegally spy on three people, vastly overstepping her authority.

Prosecutor Ivo Istvan said that Jana Nagyova, the head of the prime minister’s office, has been charged with abuse of power and six others face charges of abuse of power or corruption.

The opposition is calling for Necas to stand down and for early elections to be held. He has refused their demands and so far still has the backing of his coalition partners.

Necas announced earlier this week that he and his wife Radka filed for divorce. Tabloid newspapers have speculated about an affair between him and Nagyova.

“I have no reason to think that she has committed anything illegal,” Necas said about his aide.

Nagyova is suspected of directing the alleged illegal surveillance without any authorization, the prosecutor said.

The local CTK news agency quoted Nagyova’s lawyer as saying the alleged targets of the illegal spying included Necas’ estranged wife. Her lawyer, Tomas Sokol, did not respond to requests for comment by The Associated Press.

“It is the biggest case of that kind,” said Radim Bures of the local branch of Transparency International, a corruption watchdog.

“The key thing is that the investigation is carefully mapping all those ties that lead to top politicians. They got to the core of the problem. It’s organized crime par excellence.”

Robert Slechta, the head of the police anti-organized crime unit, said Friday that officers seized $7.5 million in cash and tens of kilograms of gold in 31 raids in different parts of the country. The prosecutors linked Nagyova to that case but didn’t specify her role.

In their explanation for the sweeping raids at the defense ministry and other locations, authorities said Nagyova’s motives were “purely private.”

They did not elaborate.

Necas confirmed in Parliament that Milan Kovanda, the head of military intelligence, and his predecessor Ondrej Palenik have been charged.

“The arrest of two generals who have served the country, in this theatrical way ... fatally harms the Czech Republic,” he declared.

Bures said the internal spying was a harmful development because “military intelligence has been misused for political purposes in the past” in the Czech Republic.

In another line of investigation, prosecutors said two former Czech lawmakers have been charged with bribery and another one is under investigation because authorities believe “they didn’t act in line with their constitutional oaths.”

The three members of the prime minister’s conservative Civic Democratic Party opposed the government’s tax hikes last year. But they resigned from Parliament right before the decisive vote — and that enabled Necas’ coalition government to survive because the ballot was linked a vote of confidence in the government.

At least two of them have since been given lucrative posts in state-run companies. Necas defended that Friday, saying it was a “standard political deal.”

Prosecutor gave no details Friday about the seventh person charged.

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