A court in Prague has released from custody a close aide to the Czech Republic’s former prime minister. The man faces charges of attempted fraud related to a dubious 2009 weapons deal. Although the court’s decision has raised eyebrows, there is little doubt the Czech government’s anti-corruption drive is gaining momentum.
A crowd of reporters was waiting outside Marek Dalík’s apartment in a stately villa not far from Prague Castle on Wednesday, a few hours after he was released from police custody. The cameras began flashing as his visitor – ex prime minister Mirek Topolánek – left the villa without uttering a word, having spent around an hour inside.
The two men had good reason to talk. Marek Dalík faces charges that in his capacity as an influential aide to the prime minister he in November 2007 asked managers of the Austrian arms producer Steyr for an 18-million euro bribe. In return, he allegedly promised to make sure the firm did not lose a lucrative deal for supplying over a hundred armoured vehicles for the Czech army.
The police arrested and charged Mr Dalík earlier this week but on Wednesday, a Prague court dismissed arguments he might flee from justice or interfere with the investigation, and ruled that he be released from custody. Chief Prague prosecutor Lenka Bradáčová seemed confident the court’s decision will not thwart the case.
“The crucial message is that the investigation continues. As long as the accused does not interfere with it – that means, he does not leave the country or does not attempt to influence witnesses – then the investigation will go on without any complications. If any of the above does happen, however, the prosecutor would then file another request for Mr Dalík to be taken into custody.”
Mr Dalík is yet another in a series of high-profile figure to be prosecuted on corruption charges. In May, the police arrested Social Democrat MP, and governor of Central Bohemia David Rath with seven million crowns stuffed in a wine box. In June, the police charged deputy speaker of the lower house and former defence minister Vlasta Parkanová for her role in another dubious army deal, the purchase of the Spanish CASA transport aircraft.
In early September, deputy governor of the Ústí region was arrested and charged with corruption in relation to the handling of EU funds and a month later, deputy labour and social affairs minister Vladimír Šiška was arrested and accused of doctoring an IT procurement project at the ministry.
The Czech government’s self-proclaimed anti-corruption drive has often been ridiculed. But after years of complaints that the authorities are doing nothing to curb high levels of corruption in the country, things have finally changed, says Radim Bureš from the Czech branch of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.
“The situation has changed and apparently, the law-enforcement bodies are now ready to go after the sensitive cases no matter who is involved. The political representation – if they are not supporting the moves, are certainly not making any obvious attempts to interfere with these investigations. So it’s really changed and it also reflects the change in the mood and the atmosphere in the society.”
According to Radim Bureš from Transparency International, public and media pressure contributed to the on-going anti-corruption campaign. But that would not be possible without two moves by the centre-right government: the appointments of a new chief prosecutor and of a new police president. However, none of the high-profile corruption cases have yet been heard at court which will be the ultimate test of whether the anti-corruption drive has been successful.