The Czech Republic’s corruption-fighting prime minister gets nabbed for ties to corruption

Should’ve gone with campaigning to save the environment.
Should’ve gone with campaigning to save the environment.
Image: AP Photo / Michal Kamaryt
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A word to the wise for aspiring politicians: when advocating to end government graft, make sure your own minions aren’t corrupt. Such is the plight of Czech prime minister Petr Nečas. Despite being nicknamed Mr. Clean Hands, Nečas is being forced out of office for his links to corruption.

Last week, in an anti-graft operation, 400 police raided offices, homes and bank safes belonging to government officials, including one of Nečas’ closest aides. The raid turned up about $7.8 million in mostly cash and some gold, which police have linked to bribes by military intelligence leaders, former lawmakers and a close aide to Nečas, Jana Nagyova. Nagyova has been charged with bribing officials and ordering military intelligence to spy on Czech citizens, including Nečas’ wife (they are separating). Nečas has distanced himself from the charges against Nagyova and claimed ignorance about the surveillance. But he said he will resign to minimize the damage to his party.

Just last month, Nečas approved a bill giving police and state prosecutors more freedom to go after officials even at the highest levels of the government. ”Nečas fell under the wheels of his own policy. When his government stepped into the office, [the] fight against corruption was one of their main priorities. Current events show that the policy and prosecution have indeed been empowered to go against the highest political representatives,” Otilia Simkova, an analyst with the Eurasia Group, told Quartz.

The anti-graft operation is considered the country’s largest since it abandoned communism in 1989. The Czech Republic has consistently scored low on public polls and indexes measuring government transparency since the 1990s, when state assets were privatized and state officials began forging ties with businesses.

Nečas, who came into power in 2010, campaigned to change that. He was reserved and uncharismatic, but gained popularity because he was considered one of the few uncorrupt members of his center-right Civic Democratic party.

Now the political turmoil may worsen the Czech economy, which is already suffering under austerity. The Eurasia Group’s Simkova suspects that Czech president Milos Zeman may call for a caretaker government until next year’s elections. In the meantime, Nečas’ party will be looking for a new nominee for prime minister, preferably one who does background checks.