Czech politicians allege they are being bugged

Czech politics has been hit by a series of bugging allegations in recent days, all involving members of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and mobile phones from the country's largest operator, Eurotel. But it has not yet been confirmed whether the cases actually involve bugging or are instead the result of human or technical errors.

The scenarios are all the same. Four members of parliament receive an SMS telling them that they have a message in their voicemail. When they listen to the message, they recognise it as a recording of a previous conversation. All of the deputies are also customers of the mobile phone operator Eurotel.

Vlastimil Tlusty,  photo: CTK
The first parliamentary deputy to claim that he had been bugged was Vlastimil Tlusty of the Civic Democrats, who made the allegations in parliament on Friday. Since then three other politicians have said that the same has happened to them. They include Zdenka Hornikova and Jan Klas, both of whom are - like Mr Tlusty - from the Civic Democrats. Mr Klas is also the chairman of the parliamentary commission monitoring civilian counter-intelligence service activities and a member of the Chamber of Deputies' defence and security committee.

The fourth deputy to receive a recording of one of his own conversations is Jan Kasal of the coalition Christian Democrats. But while the three Civic Democrat deputies believe that they were bugged, Mr Kasal believes that if someone wanted to bug him, they would have done it more professionally. He thinks that he received the message because of a technical error:

"I heard the relatively incomprehensible, though identifiable, sounds of my own voice. I was surprised, because I have never even set up my mailbox. I never reported it. It didn't occur to me that it could be related to anything, and I don't think that today either. I instead believe that it is due to some sort of technical fault, but I don't wish to speculate as to whether it is myself or the operator who is responsible."

So do the cases involve bugging, or are can they instead be explained by the less serious - but rather embarrassing - claim that the politicians are not able to use their mobile phones properly? Eurotel spokesman Jan Kucmas has said that his company does not believe that bugging is at work here, but that the deputies could have accidentally recorded the conversations themselves. He suggests that they could have recorded something by mistake for someone else whose mobile phone did not accept the message, so that the message was later returned to the deputies' voicemail.

Over the weekend the offices of messrs Tlusty and Klas were searched by the police, but no bugging devices were found. Despite this, the chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' commission dealing with the prevention of bugging, Jiri Bily - who is also from the Civic Democrats - wants the mobile phones, telephones and offices of all deputies and senators to be checked. That same commission will also meet on Tuesday to discuss whether bugging is indeed involved in the cases of deputies Hornikova, Klas and Tlusty.