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Respekt: Politicians may fight for information access

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Prague, Aug 15 (CTK) – The Czech police shakeup may lead to the war for access to information and influence on detectives’ work between the current most influential government politicians, Andrej Babis (ANO) and Milan Chovanec (Social Democrats, CSSD), Jaroslav Spurny writes in weekly Respekt out yesterday.
Both ministers, Babis (finance) and Chovanec (interior) promote, directly or through their subordinates, the proposals that stir up strong emotions in the security and judiciary institutions, but also among politicians and in the media.
Chovanec has supported the unexpected police restructuring, based on a merger of the organised crime unit (UOOZ) with the corruption squad into the National Centre against Organised Crime (NCOZ), launched without thorough analyses, Spurny says.
Moreover, it is not clear how the new national unit will look like. It is only clear that its organised crime and terrorism operative sections will be headed by people from the UOOZ, whose chief was Robert Slachta. Deputy Police President Zdenek Laube rightfully presents it as an apparent continuity, Spurny writes.
Babis, for his part, fired the management of the Customs Authority, investigating crimes related to taxes, smuggling, drugs and newly also gambling, at the beginning of the summer without explanation, Spurny says.
Customs officers have the right to wiretap, spy and conduct home searches and the new Customs Authority chief Milan Poulicek, who was installed two weeks ago, is pushing for his office having the same investigating powers as the police, Spurny says.
If customs officers were authorised to investigate crime as well, it might lead to mutual inspiration and competition with the police and eventually to a higher success rate, he adds.
Slachta, who left the police in protest against the shakeup and was recently given the post of the Customs Authority’s deputy general director, is to train customs officers in investigation skills in practice. This is why the media and some politicians are speculating about Slachta’s appointment proving his secret links to Babis, Spurny says.
He also writes that the chiefs of the nascent NCOZ will have access to all cases the unit is investigating and they reject the state attorneys’ demand that the most serious cases in which politicians or influential civil servants are involved not be entered in the computer system and that only their investigators and the respective state attorney’s office know about them.
It was deputy police president Martin Cervicek who cancelled the duty to report all investigation to the police chiefs in 2012 and since then the police have repeatedly “hit” politicians, Spurny says.
Chovanec apparently desires for power and he has a talent for behind-the-scenes political deals. Spurny recalls that Chovanec was one of the CSSD “putschists” who secretly met President Milos Zeman with the aim to topple CSSD chairman and PM Bohuslav Sobotka three years ago, evne though Chovanec confessed to it and allied with Sobotka later.
Moreover, Chovanec supported the police or give them direct orders in a number of dubious interventions, such as the politically tinged persecution of (anti-China) demonstrators during the recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Prague.
Chovanec may deal with the information from investigation in the same expedient way, Spurny adds.
Babis, too, is building a similar access to information. The strengthening of custom officers’ powers is a European trend, but Babis also supervises the Financial-analytical Section (FAU) fighting money laundering, which is authorised to check any financial flow and any account.
Consequently, Spurny writes, Babis is an influential politician, the owner of several media outlets and a food concern and one of the richest Czechs. If he wanted and were able to abuse the newly acquired investigating right of customs officers, he would be almost unbeatable.
Conspirators blame Slachta for being Babis’s servant for a few years though they do not have a persuasive piece of evidence in support of this theory. But now Slachta has accepted a high post from Babis, Spurny says.
There is a risk that Babis would use Slachta’s bitterness provoked by his departure from the police and abuse him in a possible fight with Chovanec. However, it is not very probable that Slachta would jeopardise his good reputation among experts and in the judiciary.
There is still a chance of the current manoeuvring to bring a new energy, competition and success to the police work instead of an information war between politicians since there are many detectives in the NCOZ who appreciate it that no one is meddling in their work, Spurny writes in conclusion.

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