Czech secret service may get involved in Steyr case

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer has said he may get the Czech secret service involved in the investigation of Austrian firm Steyr’s sale of tanks to the Czech Defence Ministry.Czech business newspaper Hospodarske noviny quoted him in today’s (Fri) edition as saying: “It is a question of whether the secret service has any relevant information. I am going to find out.”Steyr-Daimler-Puch Spezialfahrzeuge (SSF) sold 107 light-wheeled tanks to the Defence Ministry in 2009 for 559 million Euros, but Czech newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes has claimed that Steyr bribed Czech politicians to get the contract.Fischer added that he would not establish a government commission to investigate the deal since that would be “superfluous. I do not know what I would instruct one to do. We would just read newspapers and say ‘oh, how terrible.’”A special Czech police team is working with the Austrian police in an investigation of the deal, according to Czech police president Oldrich Martinu, and senior Czech public prosecutor Renata Vesecka reportedly wants to form a joint Austrian-Czech investigative unit.Vlasta Parkanova, who was Czech Defence Minister when her ministry signed the contract with Steyr, said she had no knowledge of any corruption linked to it and welcomed the investigation since she wanted her name cleared.She said Deputy Defence Minister Martin Bartak had been in charge of the tank deal and had signed the contract for the ministry. Bartak, currently defence minister in the government of experts led by Fischer, has rejected accusations that he was a party to a corrupt deal.Fischer had called earlier this week for a full investigation of the deal.Mlada fronta Dnes 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.