Longest serving Czech MP Michal Kraus steps down over financial scandal

Michal Kraus, photo: CTK

Michal Kraus, the longest serving deputy in the Czech lower house, has resigned. The Social Democrat MP had come under fire from the press and the opposition, over allegations he had been involved in a dubious business deal in Ghana. But Mr Kraus proclaimed his innocence to the end, saying he was stepping down for the good of his party ahead of elections in June.

Michal Kraus,  photo: CTK
Nobody knows the corridors of the Czech Chamber of Deputies better than Michal Kraus. A former member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, he was looking forward to celebrating his 20th anniversary in parliament this coming May.

But Mr Kraus's career in politics came to an abrupt end on Monday, a week after the newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes alleged he had been involved in a deal - with a partner, Frantisek Rigo - to buy a cocoa factory in Ghana in 2001.

Mr Rigo was regarded as a shady character at the time and is now serving a ten-year prison term for fraud. He claims the deal to buy the factory fell through when Mr Kraus failed to produce the promised funds. But Mr Kraus did it seems allow his partner to transfer 50,000 US dollars to Ghana via Mr Kraus's mother's bank account.

After the story broke last week the MP made a number of contradictory statements. First he said he had been in Ghana as a tourist. Then he said he had signed the contract as a witness. Then that he had signed as director, in "a moment of euphoria" as the deal was struck. Mr Kraus also said he only learned Mr Rigo was untrustworthy after returning to Prague.

Towards the end of last week he quit as head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary party and chairman of the lower house's budget committee. But that announcement did not take the heat off Mr Kraus, with the story making the headlines almost every day.

On Monday things came to a head: after a meeting with Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, the prime minister announced to the media that the MP was standing down, and not standing for re-election. He also said he believed Mr Kraus was innocent of any wrongdoing.

In a written statement Mr Kraus, regarded as an influential MP and deal-maker, said he did not want the "scandal-mongering campaign" against him to harm the Social Democratic Party ahead of elections in June.