Anti-corruption police on Monday arrested one of the country’s best-known lobbyists, Marek Dalík, often referred to as an ‘eminence grise’ during Mirek Topolánek’s government. The former aide and personal friend of the former prime minister was charged with attempted fraud related to the controversial government purchase of Austrian-made personnel carriers. If found guilty, Mr Dalík, suspected of having asked for an 18-million euro bribe, could be sentenced to 10 years in jail.
Marek Dalík, photo: CTK
During Mirek Topolánek’s government Marek Dalík was widely regarded as a key player even though he had no official mandate. Instead, he was a person behind the scenes, never afraid to act in the prime minister’s name. According to Czech TV, the lobbyist at one point suggested he was to Topolánek what Martin Bormann was to Hitler: someone presumably loyal or unafraid to get his hands dirty. There was certainly no shortage of suspicion in the media regarding the latter. Mr Dalík was first charged by police in 2004 for allegedly trying to bribe an MP, an accusation that was never proven. Later, he was caught on tape trying to influence a TV journalist to drop a potentially damaging story. The latest case is arguably the most serious for the former aide (and potentially others close to him): it is the only charge brought so far against anyone in the controversial purchase of 107 Austrian-made Pandurs by the Czech government at the cost an overall 14.4 billion crowns. Last year, a US embassy cable released on wiki leaks cited an official from Steyr – the manufacturer of the vehicles – as saying the former top aide had asked for an 18 million euro bribe in return for helping to secure the deal. Now, anti-corruption police apparently have enough hard evidence to press ahead.
Political analyst Vladimíra Dvořáková says this:
“I don’t think there’s any surprise that Mr Dalík is under investigation or accused. Everybody always spoke about his influence and his behaviour. It was even published and we for instance know how he tried to pressure a journalist not to cover a story that was potentially damaging for the cabinet. What is surprising is that there is apparently enough evidence to continue the investigation. Corruption cases are usually very difficult to prove, to get witnesses, to get proof that something like that really happened. That is a surprising development.”
Not unexpectedly, the opposition argues the case is proof that under the Topolánek government corruption was rampant. Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka:
“It is clear and there is evidence now that the Topolánek era was one of rising corruption.”
The Social Democrats, on the other hand, themselves have little to cheer about: they suffered their own major corruption scandal this year when their former Central Bohemian governor David Rath – now awaiting trial – was caught red-handed with an alleged bribe of seven million crowns. The recent spate of corruption cases being investigated in the country, piling up in recent weeks and months, meanwhile, is itself being seen as a major development – evidence for many including the Czech branch of Transparency International that the Prague High State Attorney’s Office under Lenka Bradáčová has begun operating as it should, unafraid to press ahead with cases which earlier might have been swept under the rug.