Petr Pavel, the new Czech president inaugurated earlier this month, has moved offices to Prague Castle, the traditional seat of Czech presidents, following a security check of the premises. Pavel and his team expressed concerns over possible wiretapping of the offices that his populist predecessor Milos Zeman had been using.
Speaking on the BBC’s Hard Talk programme released on March 27, Pavel stopped short of saying Russia may have installed bugging devices inside Prague Castle but said it is natural to be “cautious”.
“Zeman was more on Putin’s side than on the side of our [Nato] allies,” Pavel told the BBC, pointing out that Zeman has systematically been “ignoring the warnings” of the Czech security services and “playing down threats” Russian intelligence posed to Czechia and Western countries.
Pavel warned that both civilian and military units of Russian intelligence “are still working covertly to undermine the Czech Republic and other Nato countries”.
During the interview with the BBC, Pavel also commented on his communist-era intelligence training, pointing out that “1.5 million” Czechoslovak citizens were Communist party members “born to” the reality of the oppressive regime in Czechoslovakia.
Pavel told the BBC that it was the threat of populism which prompted him to enter politics, saying his military training played a role in his decision. “Whenever a soldier sees his country is in danger, it is like a call of duty,” Pavel said. He warned that “populism is a threat to our democracies in general”, including the “UK or US,” and that the shattered confidence in politics needs to be restored.
Awaiting the completion of the security check, Pavel had temporarily moved his office to Hrzansky Palace, close to the castle, which is also where the Hard Talk episode was recorded. Pavel’s team has yet to obtain the full security check results, Czech public TV (CT) reported.
“Packed. We are heading to the Castle,” Pavel posted on his Facebook profile, together with a series of pictures of him carrying packed boxes in another show of breaking from the legacy of his predecessor. Zeman and his team have been embroiled in several corruption scandals and faced frequent criticism for allegedly serving as the Kremlin’s spy hub in the country.
Last week, investigative journalist Janek Kroupa pointed out in his article at online news outlet Seznam Zpravy that despite Pavel’s security concerns about possible wiretapping, during the election campaign, his team had hired the very same private security agency 3D Security that worked for Zeman’s controversial aide Martin Nejedly, who had maintained high-profile contacts with Kremlin officials.
“I am not casting doubt on the quality of services provided by 3D Security,” Pavel told Seznam Zpravy last week. “I am concerned that a private entity has access to the Castle premises when state services are supposed to be responsible for the security,” he added.
Last week, Pavel’s team was also fined CZK60,000 (€2,500) for accounting discrepancies involving expenses declared during the election campaign.
In recent days Pavel has also been facing a wave of criticism for launching a podcast series Podhradi [Under the Castle ] which is hosted by Michal Pur, an editor of climate-sceptic talk shows published by media owned by energy oligarch Daniel Kretinsky and Slovak billionaire Patrik Tkac.