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Czech Republic: Havel Believes Spy Chief's Dismissal Hurts Nation's Reputation

Prague, 3 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Czech President Vaclav Havel expressed concern yesterday about the Czech government's sudden dismissal of the head of the counter-intelligence service (BIS), Karel Vulterin.

Havel terms last week's sacking very serious and "a terrible blow" to the Czech Republic's reputation at a time when the country is about to join NATO.

Havel made the remarks at a news conference at Prague Castle marking the first anniversary of his inauguration for a second five-year term as president of the Czech Republic.

Havel says the Czech intelligence services have enjoyed considerable prestige in the democratic world. He says Czech secret services have information-gathering resources unavailable to other countries. And he says recognition of Czech prowess in intelligence gathering was certainly a factor in NATO's invitation to the Czech Republic to join in the first wave of expansion.

Havel says he is neither an expert arbiter nor a referee in the dispute that followed Vulterin's dismissal but says the reasons given by Prime Minister Milos Zeman's cabinet are "not persuasive".

Officially, Vulterin was sacked on the grounds that by his activities over the past two months he violated the law on security services resulting in a heightened risk for the Czech Republic and harm to some of its foreign interests.

Havel today criticized the news media for the plethora of what he brands "twisted and confused" reports on the causes for Vulterin's recall.

The Czech news media have suggested that the reason for Vulterin's dismissal was that BIS failed to inform the government that a terrorist attack was being organized by the Iraqi consul against the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty.

BIS allegedly had been aware that Iraq had requested its consul, Jabir Salim, to organize the terrorist operation against RFE/RL, apparently in retribution for the start-up last year of Radio Free Iraq.

The Czech press says Baghdad sent the consul $50,000 to organize the attack but the consul asked for more money. Baghdad allegedly sent an additional $100,000. The consul then fled to London in December, taking the money, his family and the embassy codes. The government reportedly only found out about the plans to attack RFE/RL from British intelligence.

Czech officials have categorically refused to comment on this version of events.

Czech Minister without Portfolio Jaroslav Basta, who oversees the secret services, blames BIS for leaking this version of events.

On Sunday, the Czech independent TV station Nova divulged the name and address in Prague of an alleged representative of the British secret service MI6 who sent letters to Vulterin and Basta. The MI6 agent allegedly complained about the poor work of the BIS.

The director of the Czech watchdog National Security Agency (NBU), Tomas Kadlec, (Feb.1) termed the publication of information about letters from the British secret service concerning the Iraqi diplomat as "the greatest failure of the Czech secret services in their foreign relations."

Kadlec says the person who gave TV Nova the information about the British agent's residence and activities put the British agent in great danger and could result in his death. He told the Czech news agency CTK publication of this information violated the trust and cooperation that had been built up between the Czech secret service and foreign intelligence agencies.

In other remarks, Havel branded as "total nonsense", discussion in the government concerning a proposal to call on the United States to reimburse Czech firms about one billion dollars for business with Iran and Iraq that was allegedly lost as a result of locating the editorial offices of Radio Free Iraq and the Farsi service of RFE/RL in the Czech Republic.