Industry minister resigns amid corruption charges

Martin Kocourek, photo: CTK

Prime Minister Petr Nečas accepted the resignation of Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kocourek on Wednesday evening, the sixth change to the cabinet in the last year. The resignation was preceded by several days of corruption allegations against Mr Kocourek and speculation as to the source of a 16 million crown payment made to the minister’s mother.

Martin Kocourek, photo: CTK
The information that Jindřiška Kocourková, the mother of the industry and trade minister, had been the recipient of 16.4 million crowns in 2008 was first released last week, and was all the more brow-raising for the fact that the money had been invested through company Key Investments, a brokerage firm under investigation by the central bank for its involvement in numerous shady dealings over the last five years. Among other things, the company accepted 600 million from Prague municipalities that it has been unable to pay back, having lost its trading licence earlier this year. Mrs Kocourková’s money was invested in an American company whose bonds were purchased with the Prague municipal funds, but her share was paid out with a profit only three months later.

After initially denying he had any relationship to the funds in question, on Wednesday Minister Kocourek bowed to the pressure of the media, the opposition, and his own party, and addressed the issue at a special press conference. While adamant that under no circumstances had he unjustly enriched himself or anyone else, either through his chairmanship on the supervisory board of ČEZ, or elsewhere, his own explanation for the appearance of the money on the account of his mother was nonetheless awkward.

Foto: Barbora Kmentová
“Since the release of this information, I have been considering which more important: the issue of my privacy or that of explanation… All of the money in question comes either from my own, my family or my historical finances, which I entrusted to the management of Key Investments only so that I could divert them from any problems that might have arisen with regards to my difficult family situation in 2008“.

This admission did nothing to settle speculation into Mr Kocourek’s financial affairs, as the difficult family situation he referred to was his divorce, and he clarified that he had moved the funds in order to protect them. Whether the diversion of personal finances from a divorce settlement amounts to yet another crime has been much discussed since the minister’s revelation, with some lawyers saying it would amount to defrauding his ex-wife and a conviction of up to 10 years in prison, and others saying there seems to be no foul play in it.

In any case, the decision of Prime Minister Petr Nečas, when the two met later on Wednesday, was to accept yet another resignation based on corruption charges. The resignation of environment minister Pavel Drobil and transport minister Vít Bárta both came on the heels of charges that are being investigated by anti-corruption police. Nonetheless, Mr Nečas was very clear that while accepting his Industry Minister’s resignation he was not convinced of corruption.

Petr Nečas
“I do not believe that there was any act of corruption, among other things because Mr Kocourek did not hold any constitutional post at that time. Nonetheless the entire case will be investigated, I assume that he will provide all of the necessary documentation and that the matter will end well for him. He also provided me with some information that he was not prepared to discuss publically… The important thing is that the minister took political responsibility for a step, or a mistake, that he made when he was not in a constitutional position.”

Martin Kocourek may very well be innocent on all counts, but that possibility unfortunately has little bearing on public perception of the government at this particular point in time, when charges of corruption are as much a topic hitting the cabinet as its own stilted efforts to combat it institutionally.