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Corruption scandal

Kilian Kirchgessner / ng
June 17, 2013

The Czech Republic is in political chaos after a spectacular police raid that prompted Prime Minister Petr Necas to announce his resignation. Necas will stay on as caretaker leader until a new government is named.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas looks on during the opening ceremony of the new gas pipeline station in Primda, Czech Republic, on January 14, 2013. The pipeline called 'Gazelle' is a new transmission route for Russian gas for the entire European Union. AFP PHOTO / MICHAL CIZEK (Photo credit should read MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: M.Cizek/AFP/Getty Images

Suddenly, he looked relaxed and self-confident once again. On Sunday night, Necas faced the cameras and announced his resignation - both as the head of the ODS party and as prime minster.

"I am a fighter," he said "but I always knew that I didn't want to be in the way of what is the best way out of a problem." Necas formally tendered his resignation to President Milos Zeman on Monday.

The announcement follows a corruption and spying scandal that has dominated headlines in the country for most of the past week. Now that the center-right government has collapsed, it is mainly in the hands of the left-wing opposition Zeman, who will decide what to do next.

It all started with a spectacular police raid last Thursday, involving 400 officers, many of them masked, searching the government offices on the banks of the Vltava River as well as 30 other buildings.

Eight high-ranking civil servants and politicians were arrested, including Necas' closest aide. Police also secured several million euros in cash and dozens of kilos of gold.

Necas' involvement unclear

Undated photo shows Jana Nagyova, top aide of Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas's at the Vaclav Havel airport in Prague. Czech police arrested the top aide of Prime Minister Petr Necas and several politicians with links to his centre-right party in a late night anti-corruption raid Wednesday. Jana Nagyova, an aide who heads Necas's office, was among those arrested when she was charged with complicity in an abuse of power and with bribery. AFP PHOTO / MICHAL CIZEK CZECH REPUBLIC OUT (Photo credit should read MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Nagyova is the prime minister's top aideImage: Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images

Prosecutors have not yet released details about the affair, prompting widespread speculation in the country. What seems to be clear is that the accusations center around graft and abuse of power, but not whether the two are related in this case.

The prime minister's top aide, Jana Nagyova, is believed to have used the military intelligence service to obtain information on Necas' wife, news which has, apparently, been confirmed by the head of that service.

Then there is, allegedly, a major corruption scandal involving the top echelons of Czech political power that is being investigated.

It is not yet clear whether Necas, who has a squeaky clean image, is involved in the affair. What is clear is that the accusations involving his private life have been his downfall. Just days before the raid he and his wife announced they were going to split, which observers in the Czech Republic reckon is connected to the spying scandal.

Big fish to fry

It's an open secret in the Czech Republic that substantial sums from the state's coffers end up in private accounts via public contracts. So far, no one has been able to prove anything - possibly until now.

A policeman stands guard in front of the Czech government headquarters on June 13, 2013 in Prague. Czech police arrested the top aide of Prime Minister Petr Necas and several politicians with links to his centre-right party in a late night anti-corruption raid Wednesday, local media revealed today. Jana Nagyova, an aide who heads Necas's office, was among those arrested. AFP PHOTO / MICHAL CIZEK (Photo credit should read MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)
The government's headquarters in Prague were searchedImage: Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images

Among the houses searched in the raid are two luxury villas belonging to two men known as the "godfathers" because of their influence in Czech politics.

"We have confiscated material that is invaluable to us," said leading investigator Robert Slachta, adding that it would take weeks to analyze it.

It is those comments that have fed rumors that what has come to the surface is just the tip of the iceberg. Observers hope that the police will be able to catch the bigwigs at the helm of a mafia-like network connecting politics and business in the country.

Fight against corruption gathering steam

Not many people believe Necas is personally involved. He is known for his efforts to improve the independence of the judiciary and the police from the government in Prague.

"If there is a suspicion, we have to investigate, no matter who is being affected," he said in parliament on Friday.

Presidential candidate Milos Zeman casts his ballot in the second round of direct presidential election in the Brdickova School in Prague 13, Czech Republic, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. The presidential run-off vote in which Foreign Minister and TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg and former Social Democrat prime minister Milos Zeman (now Party of Citizens' Rights, SPOZ) are running started in the Czech Republic at 14:00 CET today. The polling stations will be open until 22:00 CET. They will reopen at 8:00 CET on Saturday and close at 14:00 CET. (CTK Photo/Michal Kamaryt))
President Zeman is to appoint a new governmentImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The fight against corruption started in earnest around a year ago. A new generation of qualified police officers and prosecutors, who are not intimidated by the government, have made it into top positions.

Many ordinary Czechs - themselves fed up with corrupt politicians - have started initiatives designed to promote clean business practices and the effective prosecution of crimes.

It's up to the president

President Zeman is now in the driving seat. The 68-year-old, who has only been in office since March, must decide who to appoint to form a new government. He is free to choose whoever he wants, whether they are from the existing coalition or the opposition Social Democrats he has been associated with.

He could call snap elections or appoint a caretaker government made up of civil servants until the regular date for elections in 2014. Many believe that this way, he would be able to exert as much influence as possible.