* Partners in coalition government consider pulling out
* One of PM's closest aides detained in graft probe
* PM fires the aide and denies knowledge of any offences
By Jan Korselt
OSTRAVA, Czech Republic, June 15 Coalition
partners of Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said they were
considering whether they could stay in government with him on
Saturday after a court ordered the detention of his close aide
on corruption charges.
A court in the eastern city of Ostrava ruled that Jana
Nagyova, who had been in charge of Necas's office for years, be
remanded in custody. Prosecutors allege she bribed politicians
and illegally ordered military intelligence to spy on people in
whom she had a personal interest.
The lawyer for another of the eight people charged in the
case, head of military intelligence Milan Kovanda, said Kovanda
admitted issuing orders for people to be put under surveillance
and that one of the subjects of that surveillance had been the
prime minister's wife.
Necas said earlier this week he and his wife, his college
sweetheart, were jointly filing for divorce.
The corruption operation threatening the prime minister's
job was the biggest in 20 years in the Czech Republic, a country
that threw off Communism with a "Velvet Revolution" but where
successive governments have been mired in sleaze.
After the court ruling, Karolina Peake, leader of one of two
junior partners in the coalition, the small liberal party called
LIDEM, told Reuters: "The situation is becoming more serious
from hour to hour."
The other junior partner, TOP09, gave the prime minister a
qualified reprieve. It said it wanted a meeting of the coalition
for an honest discussion about the scandal. But it said its
priority was to carry out the coalition's programme between now
and scheduled elections in 2014.
"Everything will be decided after the coalition
negotiations," said Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg,
Necas issued a statement saying Nagyova could no longer
carry on in her job. But he said he had no knowledge of the
offences she is alleged to have committed, and that some of the
charges were "nonsense".
He said that when he returned on Sunday from a scheduled
trip to Poland he would meet coalition partners. It could be a
showdown that decides the fate of his government.
Necas's Civic Democrat party alone does not have a majority
in parliament, so if either of the junior partners turn against
him, he is likely to fall. A new election could follow, or
President Milos Zeman could try to pick a new prime minister to
form a cabinet.
Prosecutors have not officially named the people targeted in
the alleged illegal surveillance, but media reports and lawyers
for two of the defendants say prosecutors allege one of them was
Radka Necasova, the prime minister's wife.
Tomas Matzner, lawyer for military intelligence boss
Kovanda, told Reuters on Saturday his client, charged with abuse
of power, admitted putting Radka Necasova under surveillance.
"He confirmed he did issue the order for surveillance," said
Matzner. "He was not aware that he would damage the interest of
the country in any way."
Starting around midnight on Wednesday, around 400 officers,
some clad in balaclavas to conceal their identity, raided 31
premises, including bank safe deposit boxes, and seized at least
$6 million in cash and tens of kilograms of gold. They did not
say from whom they seized the assets.
The court in Ostrava did not rule on the substance of the
charges, but by keeping Nagyova in jail it showed it believed
prosecutors at least had a credible case. That made it harder
for the governing coalition to dismiss the allegations as a
witch-hunt by rogue prosecutors.
Nagyova's role is crucial to the prime minister's political
survival because, although there are no allegations he was
involved, the two have worked very closely together for years.
Outside the court in Ostrava, Eduard Bruna, a lawyer for
Nagyova, said she denied taking some of the actions alleged,
while in other cases, she argued that she acted in good faith.
Czechs are confronted daily with evidence of corruption,
including reports about kickbacks paid to government officials
and disdain for the law among the wealthy.
The investigation into Nagyova and others appeared to show a
new willingness by police and prosecutors to strike at
That may be, in part, due to Necas himself. Under his watch,
the government has tried to appoint prosecutors with a free hand
to go after sleaze.