Battle continues over planned reform of police force

Milan Chovanec, photo: CTK

A battle over the future of the Czech police force is raging in the highest echelons of power. Plans to reorganize the force by merging two of the country’s elite units has provoked a storm within the ruling coalition and elicited protests from the State Attorney’s Office which fears the changes could impact the investigation of ongoing corruption cases.

Milan Chovanec,  photo: CTK
The storm unleashed by the surprise announcement of a planned reorganization of the police force last Thursday continued unabated over the weekend as parties of the ruling coalition traded insults and accused each other of wanting to control the force in order to sweep their corruption scandals under the carpet. Andrej Babiš, the leader of ANO, the second strongest party in government, who threatened to walk out of the coalition if the police reform was pushed through, nevertheless toned down his threats at a press briefing on Sunday, saying Interior Minister Chovanec should go instead.

“If the interior minister signs this reform before Wednesday’s meeting of coalition leaders we will demand his dismissal since such a move would make the coalition agreement a worthless piece of paper.”

Andrej Babiš,  photo: CTK
Mr. Babiš also said he would reconsider his decision not to attend Tuesday’s meeting of the National Security Council called by the prime minister, if the meeting were attended by the head of the police’s unit for uncovering organized crime Robert Šlachta, who resigned over the planned reforms, Justice Minister Robert Pelikán who said he would consider leaving office if they were implemented and the chief state attorney who has expressed concern regarding the impact of the merger. He also requested a meeting with President Miloš Zeman in order to present his reservations to the planned changes.

The other two parties of the ruling coalition- the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats- are calling for more information and a rational debate on the issue, and have criticized Mr. Babiš for allegedly politicizing an expert matter in order to lead an anti-corruption crusade ahead of the autumn regional and Senate elections. They point out that Mr. Babiš himself is being investigated in several anti-corruption cases and that he, more than anyone, would have a vested interest in controlling the force. The leader of the opposition TOP 09 party Miroslav Kalousek openly accused Mr. Babiš of hypocrisy.

“Mr. Babiš wants to infiltrate and control the police force at any cost and I consider this a serious danger.”

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Milan Chovanec has strongly rejected the idea that the reorganization is an effort to sideline certain high-placed investigators and control the force. He said he would meet with the officers of the two units to try to dispel their concerns and would present the facts at Tuesday’s meeting of the National Security Council. However he is standing firmly behind the decision to sign the reorganization proposed by the police president even before Wednesday’s meeting of coalition leaders, saying he has yet to hear valid arguments which would justify its rejection.