Loud government silence over Blažek’s conflict of interests

Blažek claims that he is not interfering in the investigation of the Brno housing case, he is only informing himself… FB photo Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic

The conflict of interests of Pavel Blažek (ODS) has been filling the media space in the Czech Republic for several weeks. The reason is the enormous interest on the part of the Minister of Justice in information from a live case concerning the purchase of Brno municipal property. In it, according to the media, he figures himself as being checked together with other party members and people close to him.

Petr Fiala, Prime Minister and Chairman of the ODS, considers the matter resolved and was satisfied with Blažek’s explanation. The rest of the leadership of the coalition of five decided to tactically put the conflict of interests of their government colleague on hold and choose a “proven strategy”: to wait for this case to be overwhelmed by another scandal.

Conflict of interests like Brno

Before we go into the list of reasons why the current government coalition consisting of ODS, TOP 09, KDU-ČSL, Piráti and STAN keeps this case “ice cold”, let’s remind ourselves what it is actually about.

Minister of Justice Pavel Blažek has a colorful political resume. He is a long-time influential member and deputy of the ODS. He worked as a representative of the city of Brno for twelve years. He first held the leadership of the Department of Justice for a full year in the government of Petr Nečas (ODS), which fell in connection with the Nagyová case. Blažek also helped arrange entry into the Brno ODS for Petr Fiala, who later became a leading figure in the opposition and efforts to “rebrand” the tarnished reputation of civic democrats and politicians in general.

We now move to November 30, 2021, when they brought investigative journalists from Hospodářské noviny Adéla Jelínková and Lukáš Valášek (both currently working at Seznam Zprávy) essential information regarding Pavel Blažek. It was confirmed to them from six sources that Blažek is being investigated by the National Central Office against Organized Crime, in the corruption case of dealing with the property of the city of Brno.

The announcement of Blažek’s nomination for the post of Minister of Justice in the newly formed “Change” cabinet of Petr Fiala aroused an understandable wave of displeasure not only among anti-corruption experts. After four years with the oligarch Andrej Babiš (ANO) in power, a conflict of interests of a member of the government was again on the horizon.

The warnings of civil society and the media were not heeded, and Pavel Blažek became Minister of Justice on December 17, 2021. The risk of a conflict of interest became fully apparent in the following months of 2022.

The minister is “interested”

After his appointment, Blažek embarked on fundamental changes at the High Prosecutor’s Office in Olomouc. First, Ivo Ištván, who oversaw the aforementioned Nagyová case in 2013, ended in March. A new chief prosecutor, Radim Daňhel, was appointed in his place.

When appointing Daňhel, referring to the analysis, Blažek demanded changes in the functioning of the High Prosecutor’s Office, including personnel changes. The Ministry of Justice initially refused to publish the alleged analysis and until after several sent questions according to the Freedom of Information Act, the analysis turned out to be just a presentation.

In the last few months of this year, Minister Pavel Blažek on his official twitter account began devoting himself to criticizing law enforcement and commenting on ongoing investigations. There shouldn’t necessarily be anything wrong with the fact that the head of justice is interested in the ongoing investigation, but the problem arose when he turned his attention to the case of dealing with Brno city property, to which he devoted most of his tweets since February 8.

After the News List brought series of articles proving that the Minister of Justice Blažek is requesting information from a live case in which his loved ones and himself figure in, a line has been crossed beyond which a member of the government in a legal and democratic state must not go.

So far, the minister has requested information from the prosecutor’s office a total of ten times. He belittles the interviewees as an alibi, saying that as a minister he must comply with the interpellations of MPs, among others from the ODS, who have the right to question him after all. However, the minister does not hesitate to ask for information of a personal nature about the supervising public prosecutor Petra Lastovecká. Transparency International therefore turned an open letter to Prime Minister Petr Fiala to recall Pavel Blažek.

Transparency International also reminded the Prime Minister of his statement from 2019 about conflict of interest of the then Prime Minister Andrej Babiš in connection with the appointment of Maria Benešová (for ANO) to the head of the Ministry of Justice: “By nominating Maria Benešová for the position of Minister of Justice shortly after information appeared that Prime Minister Babiš could stand trial for subsidy fraud, things went too far.”

Blažka’s current actions have long since crossed the shadow of Maria Benešová and, without exaggeration, these are open and targeted attacks on the independence of the judiciary. Where Benešová was a theoretical threat, Blažek has been acting risky for a long time.

Blažek’s tweeting

Due to a conflict of interest, the minister tries to “tweet” very clumsily and disguise his enormous interest in this particular case. He tweets about the systemic change and that he “explains” everything. But he chooses only one part of the story, the less important one that suits him.

In this he is successfully seconded by the ministry’s spokesman, Vladimír Řepka, who does not hesitate to publish smiling official press release interspersed with clippings from Blažka’s Twitter. In stark contrast, then, the minister’s work angry tweetswhich attacks media representatives, law enforcement agencies and the non-governmental sector.

Blažkova should be mentioned reaction for the program Reportéři ČT about his online communication, where he stated: “… and that I was also occasionally emotional — in retrospect, I can see that it was not wise.” Doesn’t that remind you of someone?

The question is whether Pavel Blažek should even embark on systemic changes. Under his leadership, the Ministry of Justice presented a poor law on the protection of whistleblowers. The proposed amendment to the Act on the Public Prosecutor’s Office neglects, for example, the independence of the chief public prosecutor — so he is only guaranteed to remain in office until the next cabinet meeting. The current government has simply resigned to quality anti-corruption legislation.

Tactical coalition silence

Meanwhile, Petr Fiala was satisfied with Blažek’s explanation that everything was fine and decided not to respond to Transparency International’s open letter. Prime Minister, the government’s dialogue with civil society looks different.

Part of the European Pirates demanded an explanation from Blažek, but he remained only with the media challenge. No further information appeared in the public space, and direct questions from our anti-corruption organization directed across the coalition spectrum again did not find an answer.

Let’s sum it up, Petr Fiala, Markéta Adamová Pekarová, Ivan Bartoš, Marián Jurečka and Vít Rakušan, i.e. the entire leadership of the government coalition decided not to communicate despite the enormous interest of the media and calls from civil society, and to close the issue of the conflict of interests of Pavel Blažek. So how does their procedure differ from that of Andrej Babiš, whom they criticized? We will have to wait for the declared “Change” and higher political integrity in the Czech Republic for some time.

Source: Deník referendum by denikreferendum.cz.

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