Communist-era spy allegations surface in Czech political wrangling
December 2, 2013 1 Comment
By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Allegations that a senior Czech political figure was a government informant during the country’s communist period may disrupt the emergence of a national governing coalition. The Social Democratic Party won 20.5 percent in last October’s parliamentary election, emerging as the leading party in the Czech Republic’s fragmented political scene. The center-left party has said it is planning to form a governing coalition by reaching out to the centrist Christian Democratic Union, as well as a new center-right party calling itself ANO 2011 (Ano stands for ‘yes’ in Czech). The new party says it aims to end corruption in the country, abolish immunity from prosecution for elected parliamentarians, tackle unemployment, and improve the Czech Republic’s crumbling infrastructure. The party has also said it is willing on principle to join a wider government coalition, providing it is offered control of the country’s finance ministry. A leading contender for the ministerial position is ANO’s founder and main financial backer, Andrej Babiš. A business tycoon, who made his fortune importing and exporting fertilizers, Babiš is the Czech Republic’s second richest man, with an estimated fortune of $2 billion. His spectacular entrance into Czech politics was confirmed when ANO, which he founded in 2011, came in second in last October’s elections, receiving 18 percent of the national vote and gaining 47 seats in parliament. However, plans for a three-party coalition have been halted by allegations that Babiš may have been an informant for Czechoslovakia’s StB secret police during the 1980s. The claims first emerged in a Slovak newspaper shortly before last October’s elections, but failed to prevent ANO and Babiš from making a spectacular entry into Czech national politics. Later, however, the media allegations were substantiated by Slovakia’s Institute of National Memory, which provides public access to previously classified records of the StB and other Czechoslovak intelligence agencies during the country’s communist period. The Institute says that Babiš, who was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, had regular contact with the StB in the 1980s. At that time he was living in North Africa working for Petrimex, a Czechoslovakian government-owned international trade company. According to the Institute, the Czech billionaire later became an agent of the StB, operating under the codename “Bureš”. Current Czech law expressly forbids former officers and agents of communist-era intelligence agencies from being assigned to government posts. If, therefore, the allegations against Babiš are verified, he would be unable to join the coalition government. What is more, the party he founded, which is known for its pro-free market, anti-communist stance, might crumble under the weight of this potentially explosive political scandal. The Czech billionaire has admitted meeting with StB officers in the 1980s, but he says he had to, as an import/export trader who dealt with phosphates and other potentially dangerous substances. He denies being a government agent and claims that the StB used him as an informant without his expressed consent or knowledge. He has sued the Institute of National Memory. A trial has been set for January of 2014.