Luxury gifts for General Staff officers bought from slush fund

The Czech Army is facing yet another scandal. Two officers of the army’s General Staff have been accused by the police of fraud for having created a slush fund to buy luxury gifts for their high-ranking colleagues. While the two officers have been demoted to the rank of private and fired, the police may yet raise charges against other members of the General Staff.

Made-to-order briefs with green embroidery that read General Staff Division for Forces Development was perhaps the most bizarre gift bought with slush fund money for various officers at the Czech Army’s General Staff. Other presents distributed at the army headquarters included skiing gears, mountain bikes, holiday packages in the Pacific and even garden tractors. So far, two men have been accused of fraud, breach of trust and fixing public contracts. Andrej Čírtek is the spokesman for the Defence Ministry.

“This is a very serious issue which puts the whole General Staff of the Army in a very bad light despite the fact that it was only individuals who participated in this criminal case. As far as the Czech Defence Ministry is concerned, we will definitely ask the Chief of General Staff to improve his personal management, to introduce more young people to the General Staff and to solve the problems that have occurred.”

The two accused army officers created a slush fund in 2003 and managed to accumulate more than 17 million crowns, or almost one million US dollars, by 2007. They would pay private companies for goods that were never delivered. As the daily Mladá fronta Dnes, which broke the scandal on Thursday, pointed out, if all the toner cartridges fictitiously delivered to the General Staff had really been used, the Staff building would be snowed under a mountain of paper. Commenting on the scandal, Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová tried to look on the brighter side of things.

Vlasta Parkanová,  photo: CTK
“This is something very harmful to the image of the army as a whole. I would like the public to realize that only a part of the army leadership is involved; it is by no means the entire command of the General Staff. It hurts all the honest officers who serve there.”

The question of how many honest officers were there when a colleague of theirs received skiing equipment to match his partners’ sports outfit remains to be answered by the anti-corruption police squad. The police say the investigation should be concluded within about three months and more people may be charged. I asked the Defence Ministry spokesman Andrej Čírtek if the recipients of the luxury gifts thought this was a standard procedure of rewarding good work at the General Staff.

“So far it seems that some people at the General Staff simply considered receiving luxury gifts to be something normal. Some people there have lived in a different world than the rest of the Czech armed forces. That must change.”

To make this happen, Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanová will improve the supervision system at the General Staff and urge its chief to carry out personnel changes. Meanwhile, many gifts are reportedly being given back to the army but it is not clear whether this also includes the embroidered briefs.