Police Raid City Halls

Ace investigative reporter Sabina Slonková – yes, that Sabina Slonková, the one who had a contract out on her life due to her aggressive investigation into corruption at the highest levels of the Foreign Ministry – is back with a vengeance.

Slonková left MFDnes last year in disgust over her Bavarian publishers’ spiking of an investigation into Karlovy Vary Film Festival finances – the publishers said it would harm MFD’s advertising income – but she has come back strong with a lead story in today’s Hospodářské noviny on a widening corruption investigation into local governments’ handling of public funds.

One of the names being investigated is none other than right-wing nutjob Miroslav Sladek. Sladek, you’ll recall, after being run out of parliament on a rail, managed to goon-and-thug his way into a mayorship outside Brno.

Here’s the excellent story from today’s Hospodářské noviny by Sabina Slonková and Radek Kedroň. The translation is mine:

Police Raid City Halls
Since January, police have prosecuted six mayors and vice mayors, and another 20 regional bureaucrats are being investigated.

Wide-ranging audits into how city and village officials have handled public funds have resulted in a list of 21 cases, in which police have come to the conclusion that regional politicians broke the law.

“Police have already begun prosecuting six mayors and vice mayors,” said Zdeněk Zelenka of police headquarters.

The majority of charges on the list prepared by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office are for machinations involving city and national funds. The list includes only cases worked on by police from January to last Monday. Aside from the six mayors and vice mayors, several other leading city hall employees are being prosecuted. More charges are expected.

HN has managed to confirm the names of the suspected regional politicians, including former České budějovice deputy mayor Zdeněk Čap, former Jachymov mayor Petr Fiedler, former Rumburk mayor Václav Pohl, former Zahoři na Semilsko mayor Jiří Novotný, and the former mayor of Utěchov u Brna, Miroslav Sladek, who is also the former head of the Republican Party.

All of the above-named politicians – except Sladek – confirmed that police are investigating their activities. At the same time, they deny any guilt. In some cases, detectives have not been able to physically serve papers.

“I was called in for questioning, that’s true, but I haven’t been charged. I haven’t done anything and I don’t understand the police’s interest,” said for example Zdeněk Čap, who for eight years led the finance department in
České budějovice’s city hall and leads the Freedom Union in southern Bohemia.

On the other hand, former Jachymov mayor Fiedler received his charges a couple of days ago. “It ascribes a loan fraud to me. According to it I gained state subsidies that we had no right to. I believe this can be explained,” Fiedler said.

The current raids on city halls are the first ever rigorous checks on regional finances in 14 years. Chief Prosecutor’s representative Marie BeneÅ¡ová told HN in March that the country long underestimated the problem with criminality in local government finance. “The center of gravity in corruption and financial machinations is today in the local sphere,” she said.

The state has also begun to worry that it could lose subsidies from the European Union due to a lack of transparency in the activities of some of its city halls. “We were criticized from various sides that we weren’t fighting enough, so we have put even more effort in,” said anticorruption chief Jiří Palka.

In March, when police arrested Kladno mayor and influential ODS representative Milan Volf, it appeared that the move was aimed only at the strongest opposition party. The current list shows that the moves go across the political spectrum: there are Freedom Union members, independents, Social Democrats and politicians from ODS.

Some local politicians consider the investigations inadequate. “People won’t want to work in regional politics, that’s what it’ll lead to,” opined former deputy mayor Čap.

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