Czech prime minister wants full investigation of Steyr deal

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer called yesterday (Mon) evening for a full investigation of the Czech Defence Ministry¬ís purchase of 107 Austrian Pandur II light wheeled tanks in 2009.The ministry bought them from Upper Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch Spezialfahrzeuge (SSF) for 559 million Euros. The Czech newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes has reported that SSF bribed Czech politicians to secure the deal.Fischer said: “I told them (Czech police president Bohuslav Martinu and chief public prosecutor Renata Vesecka) to begin an investigation immediately, and they promised to do so.” Fischer added that the investigation was of the “highest priority.”He noted that Martinu had said an initial report would be ready by the end of March.Czech Defence Minister Martin Bartak denied yesterday that there had been any corruption involved in the deal, and leader of the Prague Social Democrats (CSSD) Miloslav Koznar called allegations of corruption “a bad joke.”The Czech newspaper reported yesterday that arms dealer and key witness Pavel Musela, who had been involved in the tank deal, was no longer available to testify since he had suffered brain damage in a hunting accident.The newspaper had reported last week that one of its journalists posing as a businessman had met with former SSF managers Wolfgang Habitzl and Herwig Jedlaucnik in a Vienna hotel last month and used a hidden camera to film their discussion. It published online what it claimed were excerpts from the discussion.The newspaper said the SSF managers had confirmed that their firm had diverted three per cent of the payment money for the tanks to Czech parties in return for the contract.Habaitzl and Jedlaucnik, however, claimed they had engaged in a “bad joke” and told their Czech visitor, whom they said they had recognised as a journalist, what “he had wanted to hear.” Jedlaucnik said: “We may have gone too far.”The Czech Defence Ministry had originally signed a contract with SSF for the purchase of 199 tanks at a price of 771 million Euros in 2006 but abrogated it in December 2007, citing poor quality and late deliveries.