Transparency International report warns of corruption risks in Czech arms trade

Filip Pospisil, foto: Pavla Horakova

A report published last week by the Working Group on Arms Trade Control — a non-governmental team of experts led by the Czech branch of the global corruption watchdog Transparency International — points to a number of "risk factors" in Czech legislation and oversight which leave this country's arms trade open to corruption.

Filip Pospisil,  foto: Pavla Horakova
Filip Pospisil is the Working Group's expert on arms trade control.

"This report highlights, according to our opinion, the main loopholes or gaps in the institutional control over the arms trade, what we see as the main problems in this area. That is especially the Czech Act on Public Procurement because the main part of Czech arms trade is created by the military procurement for the Czech army."

The former Czechoslovakia used to be a world leader in the production and export of armaments. Since 1989, the weapons industry has declined but the Czech Republic is still a significant arms exporter.

"The Czech Republic is also an exporter of arms, especially in small arms and light weapons. In other areas of arms export there was a huge decrease, so it could be said that the Czech Republic is no longer as important a player on the world arms market. But still the shortcomings, problems or loopholes in Czech legislation concerning arms export may create really problematic situations, especially while, for instance, Czech law doesn't have sufficient mechanisms to prevent re-export of Czech arms. So it is possible for Czech arms [to be re-exported to third countries]. And there were many, let's say scandals, in recent years when Czech arms ended up in crisis areas of the world."

There have been cases in the past when Czech arms, including the infamous plastic explosive Semtex, ended up in the wrong hands, for example in countries facing United Nations' arms embargoes. I asked Mr Pospisil of the Transparency International Working Group, to give a few examples of recent cases when Czech arms ended up in areas of conflict.

Transparency International
"In our report we mention the export of Czech light arms to Zimbabwe, Czech heavy arms to Sri Lanka, and also exports of heavy armoury to Yemen. Those trades were executed by Czech private companies that sought a licence and received the licence from the Czech authorities for those deals."

The European Union Code of Conduct on Arms Exports prohibits member states from granting export licences to sell weapons to countries where "internal oppression" exists or where the situation is highly volatile. Export licences also cannot be granted if there is a risk that the weapons sold will then be re-exported to an undesirable recipient.

"For the cases of re-export there were many reports but most of them impossible to confirm because this issue is traditionally completely surrounded by secrecy. There were scandals of the attempts to export Czech arms to Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There again was the origin of the arms, of the surplus weapons of the Czech Army. Then it came to the Czech dealers and there was an attempt to divert those arms from the destinations that they were originally licensed for to the countries I mentioned."

The Transparency International report also warns of corruption risk factors in public procurement policy. It sees significant shortcomings in the Public Procurement Act, and points to the secrecy surrounding individual contracts and the obscurity of offsets offered by the arms producers as especially problematic.

Filip Pospisil spoke of the most notorious case in the Czech Republic in this regard: This year the government approved the lease of 14 JAS 39-Gripen supersonic fighter jets from the British-Swedish consortium of BAE-Saab but did not disclose the criteria according to which the multi-billion dollar deal had been made.

"There was a really fierce debate in the Czech Republic about the purchase of the Gripen air-fighters so we also mentioned this case [in the report] which is an example of non-transparent business and which appears to have many signs or many characteristics of a risky business that possesses the risk of corruption."

The Transparency report also points with concern to the so-called "revolving door syndrome"— cases of former high-ranking military officers "retiring" to jobs in private companies in related fields. The report also criticises deficient parliamentary control and insufficient public control over the arms trade in the Czech Republic.

The Working Group has spelt out a number of key recommendations that the report's authors say would go a long way towards combating corruption in the arms trade. Filip Pospisil again.

"As a part of our report, there is a section of conclusions and recommendations. We mention about six main steps which we would consider important for the lowering of the risk of the corruption in the arms trade in the Czech Republic. One of the most important steps is the amendment of the Public Procurement Act currently in place, which is an insufficient and bad piece of legislation. We want more transparency and simplification of the selection process for the procurement of arms. We want public access to the information on public subsidies for research and development and for the sale of arms. That might be the main important points."