Political grist for the 'Mill'

20-01-2005

The exact nature — and, indeed, legality — of an elite police fraud squad codenamed the "Mill" has been the subject of heated partisan debate in recent days. The squad allegedly operated in secret and answered directly to the current Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross, during his tenure as Interior Minister. A parliamentary committee began special hearings this week aimed at uncovering the activities of the police squad, but as Brian Kenety reports, the story has become no less clear.

Stanislav Gross, photo: CTKStanislav Gross, photo: CTK The man who replaced Stanislav Gross as Interior Minister told legislators on Wednesday that the "Mill" was neither "secretive" nor "political" in nature. But Frantisek Bublan shed little light on the activities of the special police squad, explaining that he was not "authorised" to do so.

Interior Minister Bublan did confirm that his predecessor established the police team in May 2002 but told parliamentarians that it answered to state attorneys and to the vice president of the police presidium — and not to Mr Gross, as has been widely reported.

The parliamentary committee chairman Jan Vidim, a member of the main opposition Civic Democratic Party, is among those still looking for answers:

"That team was kept 'secret' from anybody outside the police. Its existence was announced in the internal police periodical. But if you read the entry, it is not at all clear what was established. How it was created is very foggy."

The business daily Hospodarske Noviny broke the news of the "Mill's" existence less than two weeks ago. The newspaper reported that the five-member police squad worked in "absolute secrecy" for two years and reported only to then Interior Minister Stanislav Gross. The team collected information about financial dealings related to the commercial station TV Nova, the national railways operator, Ceske Drahy, and the failed IPB bank, the paper said.

Mr Bublan refused to specify which cases the "Mill" actually handled but said the media had gotten the story wrong. The "Mill" was formed in an effort to prevent information about ongoing investigations from being leaked to people facing prosecution; in fact, he said, it was not a police "squad" at all, but rather "the [former] Interior Minister's working team."

Jan Vidim and Frantisek Bublan, photo: CTKJan Vidim and Frantisek Bublan, photo: CTK The parliamentary committee will submit written questions to the Interior Minister about what the "Mill" team did, the results it produced, and to whom they reported. But following the committee meetings on Wednesday, Mr Bublan told reporters he had little to add to his previous statements.

"In my view, I have presented enough evidence to justify the activity of this team, as well as its establishment. I don't know how to react to claims that there was anything unusual about it. I can only say how it was; if someone says otherwise, he should have to prove it is so."

And it is just such a proof that opposition MPs, unhappy with the government's explanation, are continuing to seek.

20-01-2005