Scandal forces Czech prime minister to resign

Close aide of Petr Necas among prominent political and intelligence figures arrested

Czech prime minister Petr Necas (right) tenders his resignation to President Milos Zeman at Prague Castle yesterday. Photograph: David W Cerny/Reuters

Czech prime minister Petr Necas (right) tenders his resignation to President Milos Zeman at Prague Castle yesterday. Photograph: David W Cerny/Reuters

 


Czech prime minister Petr Necas has resigned amid a major corruption scandal that could trigger snap elections.

Mr Necas handed his resignation to Czech president Milos Zeman at Prague castle last night, after acknowledging that he could not remain in office after his closest aide was among several prominent political and intelligence figures to be arrested in an unprecedented series of police raids.

Jana Nagyova, who ran Mr Necas’s office, is accused of asking military intelligence to conduct surveillance on several people, including her boss’s estranged wife. Mr Necas announced last week that he was getting a divorce, and Czech media suggested he was romantically involved with Ms Nagyova.

The current and former chiefs of Czech military intelligence are accused of abuse of power and, in a separate case, an ex-minister and two former deputies from Mr Necas’s Civic Democratic Party (ODS) are suspected of corruption.


Police raids
The police raids, which involved 400 officers and took place at government headquarters, the defence ministry, a bank, and homes and private offices around the Czech Republic, also resulted in the seizure of up to €6 million in cash and tens of kilograms of gold.

“I am fully aware of how the twists and turns of my personal life are burdening the Czech political scene and my own Civic Democratic Party. I have therefore decided to step down both as prime minister and party chairman,” Mr Necas, premier since 2010, said on Sunday night.

“It is my hope that the centre-right coalition will survive this crisis and that a Civic Democrat successor can be found who will win broad support, form a new centre-right government and lead the country to scheduled general elections in May 2014.”

Immediately after the arrests last week, Mr Necas refused to resign and defended Ms Nagyova, saying he was sure she had not done anything illegal. On Saturday, however, he apologised for her alleged actions, saying: “Although I didn’t know about these acts, I deeply regret them and apologise to all concerned. I would never accept the abuse of intelligence services for personal and political purposes.”


‘In good faith’
Ms Nagyova’s lawyer says she denies some of the things she is accused of and insists she did others in good faith.

After formally accepting his resignation yesterday, Mr Zeman wished Mr Necas “a little luck and a lot of courage” and asked him and his government to continue to run the country in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet was appointed.

The ODS wants to appoint a new prime minister and remain in office until next May’s planned elections, but the opposition Social Democrats – to whom Mr Zeman is closer – are demanding snap elections. Polls suggest they would comfortably win such a vote.

Mr Zeman did not indicate which option he preferred yesterday, but said he would start consultations with party leaders on Friday. “I assume that the political parties will use the time until then to discuss the new situation,” he said.