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Czech Prime Minister To Step Down Amid Corruption Scandal

Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas has announced his resignation. (file photo)
PRAGUE -- Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas is stepping down over an escalating scandal involving corruption, spying, and possibly an extramarital affair.

Necas dropped the bombshell announcement late on June 16, just days after police raided government offices, dozens of villas, and a bank in the Czech Republic's biggest anticorruption crackdown in 20 years.

The woman at the heart of the scandal, Necas's chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, has been charged with abuse of power and bribery.

Necas said he would formally resign on June 17.

"I will tender my resignation as prime minister," he said. "I want to emphasize that I am aware of my political responsibility and I am facing its consequences."

Raids Netted Cash, Gold

Prosecutors accuse Nagyova of offering three former lawmakers from Necas's party lucrative jobs in state-run companies in return for their resignation from parliament. She is also charged with ordering intelligence services to spy on three people.

She is now in custody.

Seven other people, including the three former lawmakers, were indicted on similar charges following the sweeping raids, during which police seized more than $6 million in cash and tens of kilograms of gold.

Jana Nagyova sits in a police car after being arrested for abuse of power and bribery.
Jana Nagyova sits in a police car after being arrested for abuse of power and bribery.
The scandal has a private dimension, since one of the surveillance targets appears to have been Necas's own wife, Radka.

The outgoing prime minister announced last week that he was getting divorced from his wife after more than 25 years of marriage, fueling media speculation that Nagyova was his lover.

Necas claims he did not know about the surveillance but admitted on June 16 that "the twists and turns" of his personal life were "burdening the Czech political scene."

He said he would also quit his party, the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS).

His decision met with public approval.

"I think it was a necessary step," said Prague resident Pavel Jirsa. "And there was no other option for him in this situation but to do what he did, and I think he did the right thing as a politician."

'Definitely A Reason'

Jaroslav Plesl, a prominent Czech investigative journalist, agrees that Nagyova's arrest left Necas no choice but to bow out.

"She was the prime minister's closest ally," Plesl said. "Such a mistake in his human-resources policies is definitely a reason to resign."

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Nechas's departure plunges the European Union country into another period of political instability.

Under the Czech Constitution, the entire government must now step down.

Necas said his party would seek to form a new government led by a different prime minister until scheduled elections in May.

"Right now I want to do what is best for the ODS party and for our country," Necas said. "I want to help as much as I can in bringing about a coalition that has the sufficient support of 101 votes in parliament so that a new government is established with a prime minister nominated by the ODS."

The party's main coalition partners said they were on board.

But the current three-party ruling coalition may have difficulty garnering enough support in parliament, where it does not have an outright majority.

If no viable government has been approved after three attempts, or if the parliament agrees to dissolve itself, an early election must be held.

Snap elections, however, have to be backed by three-fifths of lawmakers.

A Deal Expected

President Milos Zeman may also disrupt the coalition's plans.

The Czech Constitution allows the president to appoint a prime minister and Zeman, a political opponent of Necas, could refuse to endorse the coalition's nominee for prime minister.

Plesl, nonetheless, believes that political parties will eventually hammer out a deal.

"Only the Communists and part of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) are calling for early elections. Nobody else wants a new election," he said. "So I am pretty sure that the current coalition will stay in office with a different prime minister."

Ironically, the operation that caused Necas's downfall was partly the result of his own push to give police and prosecutors a freer hand in tackling graft.

His resignation follows another resounding scandal that brought down David Rath, a former health minister and leading opposition figure accused of embezzling EU money earmarked for the renovation of a hospital and a castle in the Czech town of Bustehrad.

Rath was detained a year ago while carrying a wine case containing the equivalent of $355,000 and remains in custody.

The scandal cost him his CSSD membership and his post as governor of Central Bohemia.

Czechs, increasingly weary of rampant corruption and shady deals in the public sector, have welcomed their government's anticorruption efforts.

But with Necas's departure, there are fears these efforts will grind to a halt.

"It is a historical paradox that he is the victim of his own anticorruption campaign," Plesl said. "But he was definitely the first prime minister who took steps to fight corruption. With his resignation there is a huge question mark over whether this anticorruption campaign will last."