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Interior Minister takes civilian intelligence chief off duty

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Prague, May 17 (CTK) – Czech civilian intelligence UZSI chief Jiri Sasek has been taken off duty and the investigation of UZSI’s financial management has been launched, Interior Minister Lubomir Metnar (ANO) told a press conference on Thursday.

Metnar said Sasek had to be taken off duty because the UZSI’s police body which is subordinate to Sasek takes part in the check of the financial management. He said this was a temporary measure, Sasek was not dismissed and no new head would be selected.

Sasek has headed the Office for Foreign Relations and Information (UZSI) since June 2014.

Metnar said the mistakes revealed in the financial management were so serious that immediate action was required. Large damage has been caused, he added.

A state attorney launched the criminal prosecution over the suspicions on Thursday, Metnar said.

He said the UZSI paid an unreasonably high price for property and took steps that there beyond its scope of activity.

The UZSI will be temporarily headed by its deputy chief Radek Musilek.

Media say Musilek is close to Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO). Babis previously criticised the UZSI. He linked the UZSI with recordings in which he and a journalist talked about newspaper articles about his political rivals that were to be published in media he owned. These recordings appeared on an anonymous Twitter account last year. Sasek said the UZSI had nothing to do with the leaked recordings.

Taking the official off duty is the only way for the minister to ensure an independent investigation into the suspicion relating to Sasek, former UZSI head Karel Randak said on Thursday.

Another former UZSI head, Frantisek Bublan (Social Democrats, CSSD), said he was nervous from the dismissal of the senior officials of security forces. Bublan told journalists these steps should only be taken by the new government.

Recently, the Prague police chief Milos Trojanek was also dismissed.

The interior minister may dismiss the UZSI director if the government approves it. The UZSI deals with information coming from abroad, but it may gather it also in the Czech territory. Its tasks are to protect the country against international terrorism, nuclear arms proliferation, economic crime and various forms of political extremism.

Apart from the UZSI, there is the civilian counter-intelligence BIS and the military intelligence and counter-intelligence VZ.

The lower house commission supervising the UZSI activities will deal with Sasek’s case on May 24.

The opposition Pirates called for a special parliamentary session that would deal with the personnel changes in the police and intelligence management made by the ANO minority government that failed to win parliament’s confidence in January and will rule the country pending the appointment of a new cabinet.

The right-wing opposition TOP 09 joined the Pirate call. Its chairman Jiri Pospisil told CTK that it is unacceptable if a cabinet without a full mandate and with a criminally prosecuted prime minister removed an intelligence chief with presenting particular reasons.

Babis is suspected of a EU subsidy fraud related to his Capi hnizdo conference centre and farm. On Wednesday, Metnar said the Prague police chief Milos Trojanek, who recently defended the investigator of the Capi hnizdo case against criticism by Babis and other politicians, wanted to leave his post.

Pospisil said this “raises suspicion whether PM Babis makes purges in these bodies and whether he is not behind the departures.”

Pirate leader Ivan Bartos recalled that the national drug coordinator Jindrich Voboril announced his leave last week. He said the official reasons for the departures of Voboril and Sasek seemed very vague.

Bartos said the Social Democrats (CSSD) who plan to form a coalition government with the ANO movement should call on Babis not to make any further personnel changes before the appointment of their coalition cabinet.

CSSD chairman Jan Hamacek said Metnar would have to defend the removal of Sasek before the parliamentary commission next week.

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