On her first day in office as the new Czech justice minister, Marie Benešová, unveiled her plans for reforming the Czech judiciary. In an interview for the daily Lidové noviny, Benešová said she would like to introduce a three-tier court system, which would make the country’s two high courts and their state attorneys redundant.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Prague and other big cities on Monday to protest against the appointment of a new justice minister shortly after the police proposed pressing charges of EU subsidy fraud against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The change-of-guard is seen as an attempt to sweep the results of the investigation under the carpet.
President Miloš Zeman appointed three new ministers on Tuesday afternoon.
Karel Havlíček became minister of industry and trade, Vladimír Kremlík
took the transport portfolio and Marie Benešová took over at the Ministry
of Justice. All three are the nominees of ANO, the dominant partner in a
coalition government with the Social Democrats.
Mr. Havlíček also became a deputy prime minister, as did the minister of finance, Alena Schillerová.
Thousands of people protested in central Prague on Monday night in support
of an independent judiciary and against the planned appointment of Marie
Benešová as minister of justice. Organisers Milion chvilek pro demokracii
said around 15,000 people had taken part in the demonstration entitled
We’re Not Blind.
It was called after Benešová was announced as the new minister of justice just days after police recommended that Prime Minister Andrej Babiš stand trial in a fraud case. She has served as an advisor to President Miloš Zeman, who critics accuse of working in tandem with Mr. Babiš.
The unexpected resignation of Justice Minister Jan Kněžínek late last week, coming just one day after police investigators proposed charging the prime minister with EU subsidy fraud has raised an outcry from opposition politicians, who say the move gives serious cause for concern about the independence of the Czech judiciary.
Minister of Justice Jan Kněžínek has announced his decision to step down
amid growing speculation that he would also be part of a pending government
reshuffle. Mr Kněžínek said he had considered resigning for some time.
Mr Kněžínek will be replaced in the post by Marie Benešová, who served as justice minister in the government of Jiří Rusnok.
The Minister of Justice said he would leave office on April 30. The two other ministers to be replaced are Transport Minister Dan Ťok and Minister of Industry and Trade Marta Nováková.
Police investigators have proposed pressing charges against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and several members of his family over suspicions that he and his associates illegally tapped into a 50 million crown EU subsidy ten years ago. If the prime minister stands trial and is found guilty he could face a jail sentence of between five and ten years.
The Czech government aims to obtain much more revenue in taxation from the likes of Google and Facebook, Hospodářské noviny reported on Thursday. Under a planned new digital tax scheme, the huge multinationals would be forced to pay taxes in the place they make earnings, in this case the Czech Republic, the business daily said.
The Czech Ministry of the Interior has reduced by over one-quarter its funding for non-governmental organisations focused on preventing corruption. The money has been diverted into an anti-drink driving campaign – despite a previous government pledge to allocate more funds to anti-graft groups. I discussed the news with David Ondráčka, head of the Czech branch of watchdog group Transparency International.