Czech ministers are breaking the law

Since 1995 the Czech Republic has had a law to prevent politicians indulging in activities that would involve a conflict of interests. The law states that no member of the government should own a private company or take part in its management, but according to a number of press reports three Czech ministers have been involved in business activities. Beatrice Cady reports.

It all started when the press discovered that Petr Lachnit, the regional development minister, was also on the board of directors of the private firm Alfa Horizont. Although Lachnit, a Social Democrat, refused to admit he was breaking the law, within a couple of days he succumbed to media pressure, resigned from his post on the board and gave up his 250,000-crown share in the company.

But the papers are claiming that the Social Democratic Party has other skeletons in the cupboard. It's alleged that earlier this year they used money given by an anonymous donor to buy a house in the city of Ostrava. Who the donor was and why the Social Democrats were granted this amount of money, nobody knows: the Social Democrats have declined to give any information about the identity of this donor. However, the paper Mlada Fronta Dnes reckons that whoever he is, he's likely to be rewarded with one of the many state contracts being handed out by Lachnit's ministry. The paper claims the secret donor is an Ostrava firm called Tchas, which has been chosen to restore a number of old buildings around the Ostrava region. Grist to the mill of the paper's speculation was the presence of a party official on the jury that awarded Tchas the contracts.

Another state official, Transport Minister Jaromir Schling, has also been having problems with the 1995 law. Indeed, the Lidove Noviny newspaper claims to have revealed that he not only used to own a printing house in the South Moravian town of Telc, but was also the chairman of the housing society Junior. Although Schling resigned from his function in the printing house soon after he was appointed minister, he is still on Junior's board of directors. Schling has argued that he doesn't have any financial interest in the company.

Last but not least, Prime Minister Milos Zeman has also revealed himself the chairman of the board of the joint stock company Cil, which has close links with his party. The whole story may well blow over with the end of the quiet summer season in the Czech press, but there is no doubt, that at least for Mr Lachnit, it has caused a good deal of discomfort.

Author: Beatrice Cady
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