Is administrative anomaly or political power struggle behind police chief controversy?

Martin Červíček, photo: CT

The Czech police force has had to face an unprecedented situation this week – the existence of two police presidents. With the former head of the force Petr Lessy reinstated after being cleared of criminal charges, the question there is now a question over what should be done with the man appointed to succeed him, Martin Červíček. We look at how the Interior Minister Martin Pecina is dealing with the situation.

Petr Lessy,  photo: Czech Army
The often criticized decision of former interior minister Jan Kubice to dismiss police president Petr Lessy last August over alleged libel against a subordinate has seen its endgame this week. A Prague court ruled in late November that charges leveled against Mr. Lessy were unfounded and that the investigation of the case, as well as the dismissal, should not have taken place at all. This prompted outgoing Interior Minister Martin Pecina, after consultation with independent legal experts, to reinstate Mr. Lessy to his former position earlier this week, effectively creating two heads for the police force.

Martin Červíček,  photo: CTK
Current police president Martin Červíček, who was Mr. Lessy’s deputy before being named as his successor last year, has taken a defensive stance. He is refusing to step down on his own volition, despite having made public statements last year that he would do so if Mr. Lessy were cleared of charges. Speaking at a press conference, Mr. Červíček showed his resolve and underlined his achievements:

“I do not see a reason right now for me to step down as police president. On the other hand I am a police officer and I am not going to make dramatic statements or pick a fight with the interior minister. This is not fitting for a general who has led the police for a year a half with certain principals and results, which can be objectively evaluated.”

Martin Pecina,  photo: CTK
Mr. Červíček has called on Minister Pecina to take legal steps, if he is determined to return Mr. Lessy to his former post. Though no legal precedent exists for this situation, the minister has launched administrative proceedings to annul his predecessor’s decision to make Mr. Červíček head of police. A co-author of the police service law and the deputy chairman of the independent police union, Petr Tomek, has his doubts about the legal backing for such a move.

“The question is what reasons would lead to Mr. Červíček’s dismissal, because it’s not like the highest card wins in this case. The decision will have to take into account that the last person named to this position was Martin Červíček.”

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek,  CRo
As tensions rise within the police force, some officials are beginning to take sides. On Thursday, President Zeman, for example, came out in support of Mr. Červíček.

Speculations, fueled by brigadier general Červíček himself, have appeared in the media that this is an attempt by minister Pecina to make personnel changes in important positions before his departure - changes, which president Červíček says he is unwilling to make, but Mr. Lessy would. The interior minister has denied that he has ever pressured the police president into making personnel changes.

But no matter what kind of power struggles form the backdrop to this administrative dilemma, depending on the length of the proceedings against Mr. Červíček, the resolution of the situation will likely fall into the lap of a completely new interior minister from the next cabinet.