The Supreme Court has ruled that a regional court acted illegally six years ago in authorising the wiretapping of investigative journalist Janek Kroupa, who was digging into alleged corruption in a multi-billion crown military tender. The ruling further sets important precedents in requiring judges to explicitly justify any police surveillance of journalists, which infringes upon their right to protect their sources and the Constitutional right to freedom of expression.
The former minister of finance, ANO boss Andrej Babiš, denies that he gave
anybody orders in a recording anonymously released on Sunday. The tape
appears to capture him saying that “his people” at the tax authority
had put pressure on a rival company to his Agrofert that later went
However, in an interview with Lidovky.cz on Tuesday, Mr. Babiš said the “pseudo-recording” was of a statement, not an order. He compared the words used to pub chat.
In addition, the ANO leader again accused the Social Democrat minister of the interior, Milan Chovanec, of unduly influencing the security services.
A new anonymously released recording appears to show ANO chief Andrej
Babiš saying “his people” had put pressure on a company that ended up
in bankruptcy. On the tape a voice resembling that of Mr. Babiš says that
the Financial Administration (tax authority) had taken action against a
company named FAU that owned a fuel depot on the grounds of Precheza, a
firm owned by Agrofert, which at the time belonged to Mr. Babiš.
Hospodářské noviny wrote last week that Prechaza wanted to buy the depot
but FAU refused to sell.
Mr. Babiš was minister of finance so had ultimate authority over the Financial Administration when it took action against FAU in a move later ruled unlawful by a court. The politician told Czech Radio on Sunday that the tape was “manipulation”.
Previous leaked recordings of the ANO leader released by the same anonymous source appeared to show him overseeing the release of information damaging to his political rivals via a newspaper he owned. Mr. Babiš described them as fake.
Five people, including the prime minister and the high state prosecutor in Olomouc Ivo Ištvan, testified before a parliamentary commission on Tuesday on the subject of leaks from police files. The commission was called to investigate following the leak of internal police information in taped conversations between a journalist and ANO leader Andrej Babiš.
Interior Minister Milan Chovanec, who was questioned by a parliamentary committee on Tuesday in connection with leaks from ongoing police investigations, said he was deeply concerned by this phenomenon, calling it a “cancer” in the system. He said it was evident that some media had insight into such cases which was totally unacceptable and could hurt innocent people. He said that while he respected the right of journalists to protect their sources the matter should be investigated by the secret services and measures taken to prevent such leaks. A parliamentary committee was set up to investigate the matter after leaked telephone recordings revealed that a journalist had consulted ANO leader Andrej Babiš about the possibility of using information from an ongoing investigation so as to damage his political rivals.
The authorities frequently fail to inform people that their phone was tapped by the police, according to Czech public television. As a result, many people have no idea their privacy was invaded. The issue was highlighted by Journalist Janek Kroupa who says he has proof his phone was tapped in 2012 but he never received notice of the fact that the wiretapping had been concluded. According to Czech law the police have a duty to inform people that they had been tapped in connection with an investigation. In 2015 the police reportedly wiretapped 202 phones. Only 90 people were later informed about the fact.
Police have shelved their investigation into whether a crimal act was performed when former finance minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš was secretly recorded, Czech Television has reported. It cited the state prosecutor for Prague 5, Martin Černý. Proceedings were initiated by Babiš but the prosecutor said that recording someone without their permission could not be regarded as a criminal act. A former reporter for the Babiš owned newspaper, Dnes, was implicated in the recording during which the former minister rubbished some of his Social Democrat colleagues and discussed the time of printing news that could damage them.
ANO chief Andrej Babiš says the leak of police information is a problem for the force’s leaders and not his as an “ordinary MP”. Mr. Babiš made the comment after being questioned for about half an hour by a lower house committee looking into the leak of information from ongoing police investigations. The ANO leader told journalists that he not held “live” police files in his hands and had not received any such information from journalist Marek Přibil, who also appeared before the committee on Tuesday. Anonymously released recordings appeared to show Mr. Přibil offering Mr. Babiš police information and the two planning smear campaigns against rivals when the journalist worked for a newspaper owned by the politician. Mr. Babiš says the recordings are fake.
Judges from the Supreme Court have ruled that wire taps used in the prosecution case against former top Social Democrat politician David Rath were permissible as evidence. The latest ruling overturns a surprise decision by Prague’s High Court last year which questioned the use of the evidence. The Supreme Court did not explicitly though tell the lower court how it should use the evidence when it returns to the case. The case focuses on Rath’s period as Central Bohemia regional governor and payments for tenders. He has already been sentenced on some of the charges to eight and a half years in prison. That sentence has been appealed. Rath also served as minister of health.