Police Razzia on Government Offices

UPDATE: The Monkey Cage now has a new and improved version of this blog post that addresses some of the poli sci research on this topic. A Dutch version has also appeared on stukroodvlees.nl now. 

Petr Nečas, the Czech Prime Minister, is having a rough week. Earlier this week, he announced that he and his wife were getting a divorce. It reminded me of Czechoslovakian communist leader Klement Gottwald, who went to Moscow to bury Stalin in 1953, got pneumonia and promptly died shortly afterwards. Nečas went to Moscow recently on a state visit, then Putin got a divorce, and now Nečas’s marriage is ending as well.

Then, of course, there’s still the floods going on – large parts of the Czech Republic are affected; after there was a second round of rain storms this week, now Moravia in the East is struggling as well.

Perhaps all of these things going on caused Nečas to take his eye of the ball and to fail to notice that a high-level police investigation of his very office was going on and that it would soon rock his government.

Today, in what media are calling ‘A Razzia on Politicians’, dozens of (mostly ODS) politicians were arrested in corruption investigations headed by the Office for the Investigation of Organized Crime. Amongst the arrested are some of Nečas’s key advisers, Poul and Nagyová. Also: former cabinet minister Fuks; former ODS MP Tluchoř; In addition, a number of lobbyists were arrested. (LINK – list of key arrests. According to MF Dnes, eight people are being accused of five different violations).

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Speculations started immediately about the end of the coalition and the fall of the Nečas government, which has been on very shaky ground for quite some time now.

For most of the day, Nečas disappeared.

Those close to him did not know where he was, media wrote that he had disappeared, and there were rumors that Nečas had collapsed . Whatever happened, Nečas did not address the media until the end of the day, hours after the arrests had taken place. He claimed that he had been ‘working all day’, and denied rumors about him having collapsed, or about his government having collapsed. His being MIA as well as his subsequent comments suggest that Nečas as well as other key politicians were unaware that this was going to happen. The arrests were a well prepared concerted police action and some of the arrests occurred right at the seat of the Czech government, the Government Office. ODS politicians including Speaker of the House Miroslava Němcová denounced the police for being slow to inform the public and the leaders of the country but this just underlined the extent to which they were out of the loop.

This episode is unique in Czech politics; while it has struggled with corruption issues after the collapse of communism in 1989, it has been less affected than other countries in the region. Indeed, this episode paints a stark contrast between the Czech situation and prosecutions and investigations elsewhere in central and eastern Europe. Elsewhere, courts and investigators are too corrupt themselves to start investigating in the first place, and when they do it is often at the behest of incumbents seeking to undermine or get rid of political opponents. In this case, however, the Czech ‘Department for the Investigation of Organized Crime’ has managed to stay under the radar and to start an investigation that reached right into the heart of the current administration without any incumbent being in a position to prevent it.

UPDATE: the PM has called a meeting of the Czech Security Council as opposition parties are meeting discussing next moves leading to announcing their lack of trust in the current government. The coalition partners LIDEM and TOP09 are sticking with ODS (the largest government party) for the moment.

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