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Czech Republic: Military Intelligence Under Fire

The Czech parliament is taking a controlling role in the country's scandal-ridden military intelligence service. As RFE/RL reports, the move follows revelations that a former senior Foreign Ministry official who is facing allegations of corruption and plotting to murder a journalist was working for military intelligence.

Prague, 7 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Czech Republic's Military Intelligence Service, or VZS, has functioned for years as a largely independent body within the Defense Ministry.

Yesterday, Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik agreed to a request by a committee of the Czech parliament to allow five deputies to have access to secret information involving military intelligence. This would give parliament, for the first time, an oversight role over military intelligence.

The VZS is in the spotlight following allegations that the former secretary-general of the Foreign Ministry, Karel Srba, had been a VZS agent code-named "Salima." Police arrested Srba and three alleged accomplices last month on suspicion of plotting to murder an investigative journalist, Sabina Slonkova. Slonkova writes about intelligence issues for the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" and in the past had written several articles revealing Srba's allegedly corrupt activities.

Former Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who a month ago was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly, says he was aware that Srba was working for military intelligence. But Kavan told "Mlada fronta Dnes" last week he had no idea what intelligence if any Srba was gathering at the ministry.

Kavan confirmed that former Prime Minister Milos Zeman's adviser and communist-era bureaucrat, Miroslav Slouf, had recommended that Kavan hire Srba as secretary-general at the Foreign Ministry. In that post, Srba had considerable authority over the purchase, rental, and lease of equipment and properties in the Czech Republic and abroad.

Srba resigned his post at the Foreign Ministry in April 2001 amid allegations, publicized by Slonkova, of corruption. At that time, Defense Minister Tvrdik allegedly ordered that VZS cease its collaboration with Srba.

Tvrdik late last month fired VZS chief Andor Sandor after learning that Sandor's staff had failed to carry out Tvrdik's order to end the intelligence agency's collaboration with Srba. Tvrdik told the parliamentary defense committee yesterday he intends to appoint the commander of the Czech antichemical-warfare unit currently based in Kuwait, Josef Proks, to succeed Sandor as director of VZS.

It is unclear why VZS ignored the defense minister's order and kept Srba on as a registered agent. Some members of the intelligence community insist Srba had not been an active agent for years.

Tvrdik told parliament's defense and security committee, which met at his request in a secret session yesterday, that seven mid-level and senior officers at VZS violated the rules in connection with Srba and that some of them will be dismissed as a result. "So far, we have a feeling that there was a violation of service regulations and we are holding certain individuals responsible for concrete acts," Tvrdik said.

But he told reporters afterward that he sees no direct connection between the disorganization at VZS and the murder plot against Slonkova.

Committee chairman Jan Vidim expressed deeper concern, however, saying, "the information from within military intelligence is alarming and very wild."

Parliament is considering establishing a commission to investigate alleged corruption at the Foreign Ministry in contracts with outside vendors during the past six years. This is largely in response to the discovery by police during a search of Srba's home and car on 19 June of the equivalent of $1 million in cash, as well as a photograph of Slonkova with the word "liquidation" written on it. An associate of Srba's, Eva Tomsovicova, who is currently in investigative custody, said that she had collected kickbacks for Srba from contractors.

The proposal to establish a special commission is being pushed by the two parliamentary opposition parties, Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democrats (ODS) and the Communists (KSCM). However, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross of the ruling Social Democrats sees any attempt to set up a special commission as a political ploy. "It's political. It definitely has nothing to do with any attempt to investigate anything," Gross said.

Members of parliament from the Social Democrats' coalition partners, the Christian Democrats and Freedom Union, are divided over the need for a commission. Freedom Union deputy Hana Marvanova said: "My view is that the emphasis has to be on the investigation. It has to be up to the government and the executive [police]. But an investigative commission could contribute to a speedy investigation of the whole affair."

Meanwhile, the head of Czech police, Jiri Kolar, said that within the next few days, Srba will also be indicted on additional charges, noting that the entire case can be divided in two: violence involving the plot to murder Slonkova and economic crimes, chiefly bribery.

He said the investigation of the murder plot should be resolved by mid-September but a probe of Srba's economic activities will take longer. The Prague business daily "Hospodarske noviny," citing unnamed sources, today alleges that Srba maintained contacts with several arms dealers and "may have had more than just a friendly relationship with them."