Environment minister steps down amidst corruption scandal

The Czech environment minister, Civic Democrat Pavel Drobil, has announced his resignation over a corruption scandal at the ministry. Mr Drobil’s decision came hours after the daily Mladá fronta Dnes exposed practices aimed at channelling money from the ministry-controlled State Environmental Fund.

Pavel DrobilPavel Drobil Environment Minister Pavel Drobil made the announcement after a meeting of coalition leaders, prompted by revelations of corrupt practices at the State Environmental Fund, a branch of the ministry that funds environmental projects.

Wednesday’s edition of Mladá fronta Dnes brought transcripts of recordings implicating the minister’s advisor, Martin Knetig, who was trying to manipulate public procurement at the fund.

Mr Knetig was captured on tape trying to manoeuvre the fund’s management into manipulating tenders, hiring hand-picked law firms, and depositing billions of crowns from the fund’s budget into a particular bank. The kickback, Mr Knetig is heard saying, was going to be used to finance Environment Minister Pavel Drobil’s future political career.

Another tape implicates Minister Drobil himself. The director of the State Environmental Fund, Libor Michálek, recorded his own conversations with the minister’s advisor, and the minister himself. When he told the minister about the attempts to manipulate money flows at the fund, Mr Drobil asked him to destroy the recordings, and even offered him the job of deputy minister if he kept quiet about the matter. But Mr Michálek didn’t, and instead gave the tapes to the daily. On Wednesday, pressure on Minister Drobil mounted, and after a meeting of the coalition heavyweights, Minister Drobil said he would step down.

Libor MichálekLibor Michálek “I told the prime minister that I would step down after I deal with the situation at the State Environment Fund. I don’t want people who record each other and who tell tales about what the minister allegedly asked them to do to continue working there. The prime minister agreed, and asked me to remain in my position until the current government session is over, and until the state budget for 2011 is approved.”

Prime Minister Petr Nečas said he still trusted Mr Drobil, who is the deputy head of Mr Nečas’ party, the Civic Democrats. Prime Minister Nečas said the only mistake Mr Drobil made was that he appointed the wrong people to important positions.