Just when it looked like the story of the Civic Democrats’ efforts to use bribes to bring down the government of Stanislav Gross was starting to die down, LidovÃ© noviny comes forth with some pretty strong investigative reporting.
What is referred to in the Czech press as the “Kořistka affair” involves attempts to bribe a member of the Czech parliament who was also a member of the Freedom Union, one of the three parties in the governing coalition. This coalition has a one-vote majority in parliament, and be in grave danger if one vote turned against it.
ODS damage control efforts so far have focused on the reliability of the MP at the center of the case, Zdeňek Kořistka. For example, Czech President VÃ¡clav Klaus, who was ODS’ leader before assuming the presidency, has called Kořistka a “completely untrustworthy person.”
This new evidence presented in LN’s story will be a lot harder to explain away.
Lobbyist Jan Večerek is behind the corruption offer of CZK 10 million (USD $411,336) and the ambassadorship to Bulgaria, according to testimony given to police Oct. 22 by MP Zdeňek Kořistka. LidovÃ© noviny has confirmed this information with a police source familiar with the Kořistka case.
“I don’t know. It’s absolute stupidity,” Večerek said in reaction to LN’s information. “I don’t know what to think. I don’t believe anything from Kořistka,” said Marek DalÃk, the assistant to the chairman of the Civic Democrats (ODS), and the other person allegedly involved in a meeting where the bribery offer was to have taken place.
Zdeněk Kořistka only sent a text message to LN saying he would not comment until the end of the investigation.
DalÃk [the ODS man] and Večerek [the lobbyist] previously said that Kořistka [the MP] thought up the entire bribery affair, which was supposed to bring down the Gross government. They also said that nothing was offered in their meeting in an Ostrava shopping center.
Police are now working on a version of the story where Večerek offered Kořistka a bribe before the meeting, and DalÃk only took part as an “ODS guarantor” whose presence would lend weight to Večerek’s promises. DalÃk also resolutely denied this version yesterday.
Suspicions that some kind of offer took place are supported by the fact, according to the police, that Kořistka and Večerek lied in the investigation, in conjunction with irregularities surrounding a vacation Kořistka went on. When details emerged that Večerek donated CZK 28,000 (USD $1,151), he said he merely was cashing in a bonus at a travel agency Kořistka actually used later for a trip to Mallorca. Večerek had no such bonus.
The fact that Večerek gave Kořistka CZK 28,000 for a private vacation was brought forward by ODS parliamentary leader ODS Vlastimil TlustÃ½.
Večerek later defended himself by saying he did not give Kořistka any money. He allegedly merely used a 50% discount bonus, which he had in his own words at a travel agency he refused to name. Kořistka and an additional two people went on the vacation just one day after the incriminating Ostrava meeting.
“I didn’t pay him anything. He went abroad on his own money,” Večerek told the Pravo newspaper, explaining that it was an “offer to a friend” at a time when he himself was not planning a vacation.
This of course is untrue. At the Fischer travel agency Kořistka used, Večerek has no such discount. According to LN’s information, Fischer has discount coupons worth a maximum of CZK 500 (USD $20.56). Therefore, Večerek sent Kořistka CZK 28,000, and Kořistka paid the travel agency the whole CZK 56,000 (USD $2,303) price of the trip.
Fischer spokesman Dan Plovajko neither confirmed nor denied LN’s information. “We will not, because of protection of personal data, provide any personal information about our clients,” he said.
Večerek did not want to explain anything yesterday either. “I don’t know. I will not comment. You should turn to Mr. IÅ¡tvÃ¡n, who has come out today and is speaking in a certain manner,” he said, referring to publication of a long-term investigation into the high state prosecutor’s office in Olomouc.
That investigation confirmed that DalÃk and Večerek’s arrest on orders of the state prosecutor’s office was illegal.
But investigators are sticking to their version. “Večerek paid for Kořistka’s vacation only when it was clear he would become an MP. They had not met at all for three quarters of a year.”
In addition, Kořistka originally wanted to travel to Croatia, then enormously pushed for a trip to Bulgaria, and in the end decided on Mallorca,” the police source told LN.
The source also confirmed the version that said that Večerek was to have offered Kořistka the CZK 10 million offer before their meeting with DalÃk. According to the source, it could have been with DalÃk’s knowledge.
Police are investigating both men.