Czech justice minister under pressure to resign over interventions in Brno graft probes

Czech justice minister under pressure to resign over interventions in Brno graft probes
Several Pirate party representatives have called for Pavel Blazek to resign over his interventions, and even the Supreme State Prosecutor says they "do not seem appropriate". / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera March 2, 2023

Representatives of the Czech Pirate Party have called for Minister of Justice Pavel Blazek to resign after more reports emerged of his systematic interventions into a corruption case in which he and his ODS party colleagues have been questioned by police.  

Earlier this week, online news outlet Seznam Zpravy reported that in the past month Blazek has made four requests to obtain information from prosecutors relating to the scandal over handling of Brno city properties in which he and party colleagues have been questioned or are under investigation by police. Since entering office in December 2021, Blazek has made altogether nine information requests from state prosecutors.

“The frequency does not seem appropriate to me – however, the question of appropriateness needs to be assessed by the minister himself,” Supreme State Prosecutor Igor Striz was quoted as saying by Seznam Zpravy.

Several Pirate Party members, including two of its European Parliament members, have made it clear Blazek should step down. The Pirate party is a junior and the most liberal member of the five-party centre-right coalition government.

“Interventions of Minister Blazek into a live case in which he and his party colleagues are suspects is reminiscent of practices exercised by authoritarian governments in Hungary and Poland, certainly not of the democratic West, to which the ODS claims to belong,” Pirate MEP Mikulas Peksa posted. He stated that “Blazek should claim responsibility and resign”.  

Peksa’s party and EP colleague Marketa Gregorova posted on Twitter that “in a democracy it is appropriate to admit that even a minister from a democratic party failed” and added that “Pavel Blazek should step down”.

Pirate Party chairman and Blazek's ministerial colleague Ivan Bartos told news outlet Novinky he wants Blazek to explain his actions and “to prove to the public that he is not being selective” in his interests in the Brno affair.

The Czech branch of the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International (TI) objected to Blazek’s appointment to the helm of the justice ministry when Prime Minister Petr Fiala first made the composition of his cabinet public in 2021, shortly after the October 2021 election, arguing that he would face conflicts of interest because of his involvement in the Brno scandals. Critics also accused Blazek of not having the unimpeachable background that a justice minister needed to have.

TI has now said the situation with Blazek “is not different” from the situation following the appointment of Justice Minister Marie Benesova in 2019 under the previous ANO-led government, which sparked the largest mass demonstrations in the country since the fall of communism in 1989.

“Minister Blazek is actively using his public function to intervene in the case which concerns himself and ODS members, that is, a political party of which you are the chairman. You have previously sharply criticised similar behaviour of the previous minister Benesova in connection to the cases concerning the ANO party,” TI wrote in a letter to Fiala that it published on its website.    

Fiala was forced to defend his cabinet colleague and party ally on March 1, in another sign that the pressure is mounting on Blazek. Fiala said Blazek "has convincingly" demonstrated he is not intervening. "Queries which Minister Blazek raised in the case of so-called Brno affair did not concern ODS party members, and no query raised by justice minister can be interpreted as intervention," Fiala was quoted as saying by the CTK state news agency. 

Cabinet spokesperson Vaclav Smolka has backed Blazek, saying his position as a minister obliges him to pose questions raised towards state prosecutors and that he has never been directly confirmed as a suspect in the Brno corruption scandals.

Blazek himself told Seznam Zpravy that he is merely responding to interpellations filed by legislators, which obliges him, as justice minister, to respond in due time. “I am not making the queries, but deputies are,” Blazek was quoted as saying, adding that “I am merely sending the queries forward to fulfil my constitutional duty to respond to the queries.”

Fellow ODS legislators Ivan Adamec and Ivan Kral filed interpellations in February, according to Seznam Zpravy.

Investigative reporter Lukas Valasek of Seznam Zpravy pointed out in an interview with Czech Radio on March 2 that Blazek, who normally cultivates a calm profile, has been giving erratic statements through Twitter. "We are in a situation when Mr Blazek is in fact not giving an explanation. He has not yet explained his eminent interest in this one particular case of of Brno municipality apartments," Valasek told Czech Radio. 

Blazek heads the South Moravian branch of the rightwing ODS, headquartered in the regional capital Brno, to which Fiala also belongs. Altogether three local party members and municipal politicians – Otakar Bradac, Robert Kerndl and Brno Mayor Marketa Vankova – have been questioned or are under investigation by police, and all three of them have in the past worked in Blazek’s law firm.  

All previous ODS prime ministers have been brought down amid corruption scandals, and in the past the party has been notorious for deep-rooted corruption, notably in the capital Prague.