Czechs believe corruption played role in Austrian tank deal

Recent polls show that 83 per cent of Czechs believe corruption played a role in the Czech Defence Ministry’s 2009 purchase of Austrian light wheeled tanks.Austrian firm 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 recently claimed that Steyr had bribed Czech politicians to get the contract.A poll by the SANEP-Institut shows that more than 80 per cent of Czechs believe allegations of corruption had been swept under the carpet before last May’s general election in the Czech Republic to protect guilty politicians.Czech police president Oldrich Martinu said on Czech TV yesterday evening (Sun) that the police began an investigation of the deal two weeks before the Czech newspaper’s report.He added it would be evident by the end of March whether the deal had been corrupt but noted that the passage of time made it harder to prove corruption in past deals.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.Mlada fronta Dnes reported today that Jiri Paroubek, the head of the Czech Social Democratic Party, had met with Steyr lobbyists in 2006 shortly before parliamentary elections that year.Twenty-seven days later, after the elections, a contract for the tanks’ purchase was signed. The newspaper quoted Paroubek as claiming he had not known the lobbyists worked for Steyr.The Czech weekly Euro has claimed in its current edition that quality problems with the tanks had been insignificant without mentioning any sources. “The problem with the deal was not corruption but the lack of it,” it claimed.Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said last Friday he might get the Czech secret service involved in the investigation of the tank deal.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.’”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.Mlada fronta Dnes recently reported that one of its journalists posing as a businessman had met with former SSF managers Wolfgang Habitzl and Herwig Jedlaucnik in a Vienna hotel in January 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.”