Defence Ministry hit by corruption scandal

Karel Kühnl

One of the largest corruption scandals in Czech history has broken out at the Defence Ministry. 24 former officials at the ministry and their civilian accomplices have been accused of corruption by the police in connection with commissioning public contracts during the term of Defence Minister Karel Kühnl between 2004 and 2006.

Organized crime has reached all the way to the top echelons of the Czech Ministry of Defence. The police are investigating 24 former employees at the ministry, together with their accomplices in the construction business, on corruption charges. The suspects allegedly made sure that overpriced contracts for army bases renovations and other construction and maintenance work ended in the right hands. In return, they were paid large under-the-table commissions. The damage to the defence budget is still under investigation but the Czech Army spends an annual 2.5 billion crowns, or over 140 million US dollars, on these types of contracts. Andrej Čírtek is the spokesman for the Defence Ministry.

“Most of the people charged with corruption by the police were officials from the army’s regional accommodation and construction offices. The highest-ranking among them is the former director of the Ministry’s property administration section, who left his post in 2006, during the term of the former defence minister Jiří Šedivý.”

The Defence Ministry has had a long history of corruption scandals and allegations when in the 1990s a number of public tenders had to be cancelled due to a lack of transparency. The ministry’s officials have been investigated on several occasions over alleged corruption. David Ondračka of Transparency International Czech Republic says the Defence Ministry is the most corrupt body of the Czech government.

“There is no doubt about it. I am aware that this is a strong statement but according to many surveys and many concrete cases we can confirm that the Ministry of Defence is highly vulnerable to corruption and defence contracts suffer from corruption.”

The Defence Ministry has welcomed the police investigation as a means of getting rid of corrupt officials. The latest corruption case was discovered by the Defence Ministry’s inspection office and the military police which handed the case over to the regular police. Andrej Čírtek also says new anti-corruption measures are being introduced at the ministry.

“We have introduced an important preventive measure. A growing number of contracts, including construction commissions up to six million crowns, are solicited electronically via the SEPO system. The possibility of individuals influencing these tenders has significantly diminished.”

Last year, the Czech Republic improved its standing in the Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International by five spots. In 2007, it ranked 41st of 179 countries of the world. David Ondračka says each such disclosed corruption case helps improve the corruption environment in the country.

“It is one of the reasons why the corruption climate might decrease. The people in key positions feel that they are not untouchable and that they can be subject to criminal investigation. It creates a much fairer environment. The Czech Republic has slightly improved its position in the last two or three years but we still do worse than most of our Western European neighbours.”