Civic Democrats demand parliamentary investigation into police bugging around 'Koristka affair'; Topolanek claims his 'basic human rights' have been violated

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK

Parliamentarian Mirek Topolanek went on the offensive after it was revealed on Thursday that the Czech police have taped and transcribed the Civic Democrat party chairman's phone calls and are looking into his personal bank accounts. Mr Topolanek's party is now demanding a special session of Parliament be convened to examine the legality of the police's actions surrounding the alleged attempted bribery known as the 'Koristka affair.'

Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
In this latest chapter of the so-called "Koristka affair" — the alleged attempt by men acting on behalf of the main opposition party leader, Mirek Topolanek, to bribe an MP to help bring down the government in a confidence vote — the Civic Democrats are looking to bring the surveillance practices of Czech authorities to light.

In recent weeks, Mr Topolanek claimed he had been illegally bugged almost since the day he took up the party chairmanship in December 2002, and that "the 'Koristka affair' has only served as a way of legalising the bugging."

In the past, he has referred to people loyal to the former interior minister and current prime minister as the "Grosstapo"— effectively saying that Social Democrat Stanislav Gross has attempted to use his power to destroy his political opponents. With emotion in his voice, Mr Topolanek told reporters on Thursday that his basic rights have been violated.

Prime Minster Stanislav Gross, photo: CTK
"I ask myself and also all of you: Where are the intellectual, media and civic elite of this country? How is it that they are not protesting against such intrusive invasions of the rights to privacy and freedom of the people of this country - long after the fall of communism?"

The chairman of the parliamentary commission monitoring police bugging, Jiri Bily, a member of Mr Topolanek's party, met Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan and justice ministry officials on Thursday to discuss the police action. Citing confidentially, Mr Bily told journalists he was not at liberty to say whether or not Mr Topolanek had been bugged — but did say that there was no evidence the police had violated procedure.

Meanwhile, the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, on Friday reportedly asked Interior Minister Bublan to consider dismissing police president Jiri Kolar, over the his claims that bugging phone lines was "normal police practice" and that only those who were breaking the law had reason to complain.

Jiri Bily and Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan, photo: CTK
Electronic surveillance, wiretapping, and the interception of mail are regulated under the Czech criminal process law and require a court order. A judge can approve an initial wiretap order for up to six months. The Czech security services need permission from the highest court to install wiretaps and must prove that is the only means to obtain the information and that the person is a threat to the security of the Czech Republic.

In the last two years, over a dozen MPs and their aides from the opposition Civic Democrats and several from the governing Social Democrats have claimed they were bugged, and wiretaps have been found — but not traced back to their source.

In May of 1993, then interior minister Stanislav Gross and former defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik were caught accidentally by a police wiretap taking late-night phone calls from the owner of a building where a brothel is located. The Czech investigative weekly Respekt reported at the time that up to three ministers and nine MPs, suspected of possible legal transgressions, were on police wire-tapping lists compiled over several months.

Most recently, Zdenek Sarapatka, a top aide to Mr Gross who was sacked in September, said that not only was Mr Gross aware of "illegal" wiretaps on his own phone, but charged that lobbyists and other people around Gross were capable of "far worse."

It is not yet clear whether the police were monitoring Mr Topolanek's phone or the phones of the two suspects in the Koristka case; his assistant, Marek Dalik, and lobbyist Jan Vecerek. A regional state prosecutor dropped the charges of bribery against the two men last week due to a lack of evidence, but the police investigation is continuing.

In the meantime, Dr Tomas Sokol, a lawyer for the Civic Democrat leader, has threatened to sue any newspaper that prints transcripts of Mr Topolanek's telephone calls, and said that any media outlet that does so will have to prove in court any such transcripts are genuine. Dr Sokol was unavailable for comment for the next two weeks, an assistant at his law firm told Radio Prague on Friday.