Overpriced Spanish-made military planes threaten future of Czech government
Former defense minister has parliamentary immunity challenged but says she had no reason to consult with anybody over the costs
Accusations of corruption surrounding the purchase of four Spanish military aircraft could bring down the Czech center-right government of Petr Necas. The parliament in Prague will this month decide whether or not to revoke the immunity of Vlasta Parkanova, the current vice president of the Chamber of Deputies and defense minister at the time of the controversial purchase.
Parkanova - a member of TOP 09, one of three parties in the coalition government - is being accused by the Organized Crime and Financial Crimes Unit of abuse of power and misappropriation of public funds.
In 2009, Parkanova authorized the purchase of four C-295M military transport planes made in Spain by Airbus Military, a subsidiary of the European consortium EADS. The accusation holds that she did not request expert reports and that she knowingly accepted a surcharge of 558 million Czech korunas (25 million euros).
The former minister claims that she was under no obligation to consult with anybody, and that the alleged surcharge is based on an unfounded study by a company named American Appraisal.
The party leader says it is "a witch hunt" and that the entire Czech government of the time should be charged
But the scandal has opened up cracks in the coalition government. Prime Minister Necas, of the ODS party, has already recommended to Parkanova that she give up her parliamentary immunity. Meanwhile, the foreign minister and TOP 09 leader, Karel Schwarzenberg, has described the affair as "a witch hunt" and warned that, in any case, the entire Czech government of the time should be charged.
The finance minister, also a TOP 09 member, Miroslav Kalousek, went even further and personally telephoned the head of the investigation and threatened to bring his police career to an end. Necas has described this behavior as "unacceptable" and threatened to kick out of his government anyone who puts pressure on the investigators.
The Defense Ministry paid around 135 million euros (3.6 billion korunas) for the four airplanes, and also turned in five used Czech L-159 fighter jets. Airbus Military has refused to tell EL PAÍS how much money it received for the aircraft, but the official report on Spanish exports for 2010, sent to Congress by the secretary of state for trade, shows that "four transport and logistics support aircraft" were sold to Czech Republic for 104.1 million euros. Although every contract is different, Mexico, Portugal, Finland, Ghana, Colombia or Egypt also bought C-295s, with the cost per unit ranging between 21.6 million euros (Portugal) and 26.9 million (Ghana).
But for Czech Republic, the cost of each unit shot up to 34 million euros and even 45 million, twice as much as other clients, since one of the C-295s was traded in for the five fighter jets.
The price difference might be explained by the presence of an intermediary company named Omnipol. An Airbus Military spokesperson said it was the Czech Defense Ministry that appointed Omnipol as its representative, and that the Spanish company was unable to negotiate directly with its client. Omnipol's strong man in 2009 was Richard Hava, a personal friend of Finance Minister Mirislav Kalousek, who for five years was in charge of defense purchases.