Coalition party Mayors returning donations but deny wrongdoing

Vít Rakušan

After questions about their financing, government coalition member the Mayors and Independents have decided to return millions of crowns they received in donations. The party’s leader says no money is worth risking voters’ trust.

The Mayors and Independents stood as the junior party in an electoral coalition with the Pirates, under the name PirStan.

However, they did way better than their partners, taking 33 seats in October’s elections to the Pirates’ four.

They now make up the second-biggest grouping in the five-party governing coalition, and also have the second most seats in the Senate.

The liberal Mayors – who only began to focus on national politics in 2017 – have capitalised on appearing scandal-free and identify with the legacy of Václav Havel.

Recently, however, they have been in some hot water.

Their first candidate for industry minister withdrew back in November after his finances came under scrutiny.

Last month newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes reported hundreds of thousands of crowns in donations had appeared in the party’s publicly viewable bank account from firms linked to Cyprus.

A week ago news site Seznam Zprávy said that the co-owner of a company that donated several million crowns to the Mayors was facing criminal investigation over a tax case. This led the opposition to call for a debate in the lower house on the party’s financing.

Jan Farský | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

On Tuesday the Mayors responded. Chairman Vít Rakušan announced that they would give back all monies received from companies since the elections. This amounts to CZK 3.4 million.

“To us, as the Mayors and Independents movement, no money is worth risking the trust of people who have supported us. The Mayors and Independents will get by without donations from firms, until any debate on tightening the rules for political parties and their financing takes place.”

Mr. Rakušan told reporters the party had not done anything illegal and could prove as much. He added, however, that in this particular case abiding by the law was not enough.

He said the new government had ushered in hopes of a change in Czech political culture and that his party did not wish to tarnish its reputation.

The Mayors will now initiate a debate on the rules surrounding party financing, another senior member said.

The financing controversy comes on the heels of another dent to the Mayors’ reputation.

Party second-in-command Jan Farský (who is 42) surprised the entire Czech political scene by announcing recently that he was going to take up a six-month study scholarship in the US – but would not relinquish his seat as an MP.

Many eyebrows were raised and President Miloš Zeman called the move “incredible amateurism” and a fraud on those who voted for Mr. Farský just a few months ago.

Party leader Rakušan has conceded that he too was unhappy with the situation and could understand the stormy response.