Wiretap scandal deepens row between Civic and Social Democrats

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A month after the Civic Democrat minority government took office, differences between the ruling Civic Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats couldn't run deeper, fuelled by an increasingly heated row over alleged wiretaps. The current government - relying on new information from last week - has continued to press the suspicion that wiretaps could have been abused under the former government to "spy" on their political rivals. But, those are allegations that the Social Democrats have vehemently denied.

If anyone thought that there was any love lost between the right-of-centre Civic Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats one month after Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's cabinet took office, they can think again. On Friday last week, tempers flared once more over the latest in the ongoing wiretapping scandal, the new government suggesting wiretapping under the Social Democrats went too far, after earlier suspicions were apparently confirmed: a number of politicians, even journalists, including a reporter for public broadcaster Czech Radio, had indeed been bugged. That has Civic Democrats crying foul.

How did the news come to light? On Friday the head of the police wiretapping unit, Tomas Almer, sent a letter to a number of key public officials indicating that wiretapping had taken place. Monday's edition of Mlada Fronta Dnes - citing a police source - names names, says that new Interior Minister Ivan Langer, MP Jan Vidim, and new Deputy Justice Minister Martin Bartak - were indeed among those tapped, as well as two journalists.

All this comes in connection with the Jan Kubice case.

Interior Minister Ivan Langer, photo: CTK
Just days ahead of the June election, Mr Kubice - a top police official - warned a parliamentary committee of allegedly growing mafia influence within the state sector. His dossier, presented behind closed doors, was leaked almost immediately to the public, appearing on Czech Radio's website and echoed by another news server, Aktualne.cz. According to Mlada Fronta Dnes, all three of the politicians supposedly wiretapped - including the new interior minister - were on the parliamentary commission that heard Jan Kubice's brief. Suspicion also apparently led to the aforementioned reporters. Does that mean that any of the wiretappings were justified? Interior Minister Ivan Langer evidently doesn't think so, expressing disbelief at the weekend that some of the many phone numbers allegedly bugged, belonged to his wife and mother-in-law. He spoke to Czech TV:

"What could my wife and mother-in law - if it's true - possibly be suspected of? I admit that I don't have an answer, but if it's true I am absolutely shocked. Everyone should try to imagine what it would feel like to be in those shoes."

Mr Langer is not the only one to express doubt over wiretapping under the previous government and even the head of the police wiretapping unit, Tomas Almer, pointed out in an interview for Mlada Fronta Dnes that the law on wiretapping was "full of holes" and could be flexibly used. At the same time, any wrongdoing has been vehemently denied by the Social Democrats, who are incensed over the accusation any wiretapping that occurred might have been ordered from above to discredit political rivals. So far, they have demanded that the new government prove any wrong-doing or apologise. On Friday, in connection with the allegations they even managed to pass a non-binding resolution through parliament demanding that the prime minister, one of the deputy prime ministers, as well as Interior Minister Ivan Langer, resign.