Former police president says he will be vindicated

Václav Klaus, Petr Lessy, archive photo: Filip Jandourek

Shockwaves have continued to reverberate across the Czech political scene over the unexpected firing of police president Petr Lessy. On Wednesday, the police official was relieved of duty with unusual speed after he was charged with libel and abuse of public office. The opposition slammed the step as an assault on the independence of the police.

Václav Klaus,  Petr Lessy,  archive photo: Filip Jandourek
Petr Lessy served as police president for 19-months but from the get-go his naming by former interior minister Radek John saw opposition from other members of the government, then made up of the Civic Democrats, TOP 09 and Public Affairs. Prime Minister Petr Nečas himself questioned the selection process that led to Lessy’s naming and the police president, over the coming months, would clash not only with him but with Interior Minister Jan Kubice and Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek. The police president told a Parliamentary Committee this summer that the finance minister had called him in an apparent intimidation attempt regarding the police investigation into a questionable military deal. As a result, some observers said it was only a matter of time before Lessy was removed; but by law, police presidents serve five years and can only be recalled from their post if they are suspected and charged with having committed a crime. That happened Wednesday.

Mr Lessy has opted for two well-known lawyers one of whom is a former interior minister. After learning of the proceedings against him, here’s what Mr Lessy said:

Jan Kubice
“I think it will be clearly proven the charges were construed... At this point, after consulting the situation with my lawyers, I can’t comment developments further, but I am convinced the legal steps I have taken will be successful.”

Mr Lessy’s firing caught many on the Czech political scene off guard but the reaction was quick: the prime minister, reportedly unaware beforehand, expressed full confidence in the interior minister. But Czech President Václav Klaus, by contrast, expressed major concern, saying the move would destabilise the security services. That was precisely what the interior minister has insisted he aimed to prevent. Following Wednesday’s unprecedented firing, he immediately named Mr Lessy’s successor, former deputy police president Martin Červíček to fill his predecessor’s shoes.

Jeroným Tejc
The opposition, namely the Social Democrats, fiercely criticised Mr Lessy’s removal – citing the speed of his firing as evidence he had become increasingly unacceptable for some members of the ruling coalition – charges that have been categorically denied. The speculation being raised is that investigations into shady deals were simply too close for comfort for the government. Social Democrat Jeroným Tejc charged that the interior minister could have temporarily removed Mr Lessy from his post rather than resorting to firing, and claimed the interior minister had proven to be a most useful tool of the centre-right parties like the Civic Democrats, who he claimed would now “breathe a little easier” regarding corruption cases. Interior Minister Jan Kubice responded to the accusation by putting the burden of proof on the MP, stressing that if there was a shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on his part in Lessy’s removal, he would himself step down immediately.