Were Kalousek calls an attempt to intimidate the police president?

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK

Police president Petr Lessy dropped a political bombshell on Thursday, revealing that over a week ago he was repeatedly called by the finance minister over an ongoing police investigation into the CASA military plane purchase. Speaking before the Security Committee on Thursday, Mr Lessy made clear he considered the calls at best highly inappropriate, if not a direct attempt at intimidation. The minister himself has denied any wrongdoing, while the opposition has already called for his head.

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: CTK
A political storm has once again swept up the Czech political scene, again over the controversial CASA plane purchase with Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek at the centre. The minister, who has criticised the police investigation into the case (and who has defended the former defence minister who oversaw the deal, Vlasta Parkanová, with unexpected tenacity) called the police president, Petr Lessy, on July 4. Reportedly, Mr Kalousek criticised steps taken by police and also made questionable remarks that prompted the police president to cut the conversation off. Mr Kalousek then called back twice, apparently to soften his previous statements, stressing they had not been meant personally.

Whether the finance minister intended to intimidate the police president will now be investigated, but simply the fact that the minister called at all, say some observers, was highly inappropriate. Vladimira Dvořáková is a well-known political analyst:

“It is very difficult to say what the phone call was about and whether it was intimidation or not but there is no reason for the finance minister to call the head of the police. There is no reason for that. I think it is not at all acceptable. If nothing else, it can ‘appear’ to be an attempt to influence the investigation of the CASA purchase. It also isn’t the first time this happened. All of Mr Kalousek’s speeches over the last few days show he is very nervous about the investigation. His behaviour just isn’t acceptable in any democratic state.”

Petr Lessy, photo: CTK
Members of the opposition Social Democrats, meanwhile, have wasted no time calling for his removal from office. Social Democrat Lubomír Zaorálek is a deputy head of the Chamber of Deputies:

“There is only one answer, especially since the prime minister just recently warned Mr Kalousek [over a similar incident]. The only answer is to recall him from his post.”

The prime minister has made clear he is taking the situation very seriously but that he will wait for the General Inspection of the Security Forces to investigate before he takes a final decision. At the same time, on Thursday he laid the burden of proof with the police president Lessy, questioning why the police head, after receiving the calls, had not contacted him or Interior Minister Jan Kubice immediately.

That means, for the time being the finance minister will likely be able to stand his ground. In the case of the phone calls to Lessy, he did say in a statement on Thursday that if the police head produced a shred of evidence of wrongdoing he would leave his post, and he added that the police president should do the same, if he failed to provide proof.

Vlasta Parkanová, photo: CTK
All this adds up to a curious week in the Czech political arena where Mr Kalousek, with surprisingly relentlessness, has defended former defence minister Vlasta Parkanová in the CASA case. She was stripped of Parliamentary immunity paving the way for prosecution over the military plane deal: at the heart of the controversy, is the fact that during her term as minister she failed to commission an expert assessment of the order, which critics charge cost the Czech Republic an estimated 500 million crowns more than the planes were worth.