Zeman: unnamed institution behind Operation Olovo

The scandal surrounding Operation Olovo, a plan to discredit the deputy parliamentary speaker Petra Buzkova continues. At a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Milos Zeman stated that an unnamed institution is behind the affair and followed this up on Saturday by filing charges against two reporters from the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes in connection with the case. Nick Carey has been following the story, and has the details:

The first reports on Operation Olovo, which was apparently intended to discredit deputy parliamentary speaker and Social Democrat MP Petra Buzkova, were released by the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes in May. The plans for the operation were apparently handed to one of the paper's journalists by an unknown employee at government headquarters, and were allegedly written up by one of the prime minister's own advisors. Operation Olovo, or Operation Lead, so called because Petra Buzkova, who is the intended target of the operation, has the initials PB, which is the symbol for lead in the periodic table, was meant to publicly discredit Mrs. Buzkova, with claims that she had close ties with the communist regime, is an alcoholic, and abuses her young daughter.

The scandal has dragged on since then, with Prime Minister Milos Zeman first saying that no such operation was planned within the government's offices, and that the information may well have been planted there by Mlada Fronta Dnes. Only last Monday, however, Mr. Zeman stated that he had heard an unofficial report that one of his close advisors, Zdenek Sarapatka, was behind the operation. This has been fiercely denied by Mr. Sarapatka, and another of the prime minister's staff implicated in the case, Vratislav Sima.

If that is not confusing enough already, the plot thickened on Friday, when the prime minister announced at a press conference that Operation Olovo was planned and financed by an unnamed institution. This institution, the prime minister said, was also responsible for the Bamberg affair. The Bamberg affair broke shortly before the general elections in 1998, and involved alleged dirty tricks in the Social Democratic Party's financing. The Bamberg affair proved to be a fake, and the prime minister said he believes that Operation Olovo has the same aim: to discredit his party. As analysts and various papers have pointed out, Mr. Zeman did not name the institution, or provide any proof of his allegations. The prime minister further stated that the advisors linked to the case, Sarapatka and Sima, will be suspended until a police investigation into the affair is completed.

Further intrigue followed on Saturday after a meeting of the Social Democrat Party leadership, when the prime minister filed charges against an unknown perpetrator and two journalists at Mlada Fronta Dnes who have written about the affair. The prime minister stated it was possible that these journalists had planted information about Operation Olovo in government headquarters.

This action seems to have isolated the prime minister. The party's leadership did not agree with his statements, saying that anyone could be responsible for Operation Olovo, even one of Mr. Zeman's advisors. According to former Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta, no-one can visit the government's headquarters without being accompanied by an employee, so it would be difficult for a journalist to plant any information. And Petra Buzkova herself has reacted sceptically to the prime minister's claims.

Mr. Zeman is certainly not helped by the fact that he is known to dislike journalists, and has made strong allegations in the past about corruption in the media without providing any proof, a point which has been made repeatedly by journalists and analysts alike. Considering the twists and turns that the Operation Olovo scandal has taken so far, it is unlikely that this is the last we have heard of it.