Police seeks to prosecute former defence minister for overpriced army deal

Vlasta Parkanová, photo: CTK

Czech MPs are to decide next week whether or not to allow the prosecution of another of their colleagues – coalition MP, and deputy speaker of the house Vlasta Parkanová. The anti-corruption police accuse the former defence minister of wasting nearly 660 million crowns in a deal to buy transport planes for the Czech military. Mrs. Parkanova’s party claims the charges are unsubstantiated as the decision was taken by the whole government.

Vlasta Parkanová,  photo: CTK
Vlasta Parkanová was never a key player in the government of PM Mirek Topolánek which was in power between 2007 and 2009 before it famously collapsed during the Czech presidency of the European Council.

Some observers point out that the ministry was in fact run by her deputy, the influential Civic Democrat Martin Barták, rather than the minister herself whom most people might remember for her vocals in the song Good Morning Radar in support of the positioning of a US radar base in the Czech Republic.

But as defence minister, Ms Parkanová was ultimately responsible, among other things, for the decision to buy four Spanish CASA transport planes. The deal was concluded in May 2009, a day before the government formally stepped down.

CASA transport plane,  photo: CTK
The police have now requested the lower house to sanction Ms Parkanová’s prosecution. According to police sources quoted by the ČTK news agency on Wednesday, the then defence minister did not provide an independent review of the deal which was allegedly overpriced by 658 million crowns, or more than 32 million US dollars.

Critics of the contract also note that the army did not need the aircraft in the first place. Due to technical problems, the planes were grounded for nearly a year before the faults were fixed. Doubts were also cast on the decision to trade one of the CASA aircraft for five Czech-made L-159 planes, which some say was a way of avoiding a public tender.

In a written statement to the press, Vlasta Parkanová said her conscience was clear and the accusations were absurd. Finance minister and founder of the TOP 09 party Miroslav Kalousek, who held the same position in 2009, came out in her defence.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: CTK
“We were shocked because the government made a collective decision – a unanimous one in fact – and the police want to prosecute just one of its members. The police accuse Ms Parkanová of failing to provide an independent review of the contract which shocked us even more because all our legal analyses say there no obligation to do so.”

Mr Kalousek claims that the law does not require officials to provide independent reviews of deals involving military and other sensitive material. If it did, says Mr Kalousek, the police would have to raise charges against all defence and interior ministers as well as heads of the intelligence services ten years back.

The opposition, shaken by the recent scandal of MP David Rath, has indicated it will vote in favour of Ms Parkanová’s prosecution. Jan Hamáček is a Social Democrat MP and a shadow defence minister for that party.

Jan Hamáček
“Ms Parkanová is at least politically responsible for the fact that there was no public tender, and for agreeing to that dubious exchange for the Czech planes. I think that was done for the sole purpose of avoiding a tender. She is also politically responsible for the fact that the planes were unfit for flying and the army could not use them for nearly a year.”

Political responsibility is one thing but criminal responsibility another. The request by the police to open the way for Ms Parkanová’s prosecution will first be debated by the Mandate and Immunity Committee next week before it is put to the vote in the lower house.