PRAGUE — Czech police are investigating “the circumstances” surrounding a trip the country’s interior minister had scheduled to Russia, during which he was allegedly planning to propose a deal burying intelligence about Moscow’s role in a 2014 Czech bombing in exchange for 1 million Russian coronavirus vaccine doses.
The official, Jan Hamáček, was also serving as interim foreign minister when, according to Czech news outlet Seznam Zprávy, he outlined his plan to colleagues during an April 15 meeting. Hamáček also reportedly told colleagues he would press for the Russians to name Prague as the site for an expected summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Hamáček’s trip never happened, though. On April 17, Hamáček and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš publicly revealed the intelligence, saying Russian GRU military intelligence agents had almost certainly blown up an ammunition depot that killed two Czech nationals. Hamáček canceled his visit to Moscow and the two countries have since been exchanging expulsions of each other’s embassy diplomats and staff.
But now the Czech National Center against Organized Crime (NCOZ) is looking into the events around Hamáček’s planned trip, Police President spokeswoman Kateřina Rendlová told Seznam Zprávy on Thursday, although she didn’t specifically mention the April 15 meeting.
That meeting reportedly included a series of high-ranking Czech officials, including the heads of the secret services, their deputies, the national police president and the Czech ambassador to Moscow.
Hamáček immediately denounced the report as “complete nonsense,” and later went further, saying he would file charges for slander against the reporters who had written the story. He also said he would sue the news outlet for the equivalent of €390,000.
The initial Seznam Zprávy report was sourced to anonymous officials present at the meeting. The outlet’s editor-in-chief, Jiří Kubík, has said the evidence is “entirely credible.”
“I am absolutely sure that the information we have published is true,” he told Czech Television.
The report comes at a sensitive time for Hamáček as head of the Social Democratic Party, which is part of a minority governing coalition with Babiš’s ANO movement. Legislative elections will be held in October and recent polls show the Social Democrats falling short of the 5 percent hurdle required to enter Parliament.
Without the Social Democrats in Parliament, Babiš would have to form a coalition with either the far-right SPD or the Communists to have any hope of remaining in power.
The prime minister has said little thus far about Hamáček’s alleged plans, simply declaring that he trusts his interior minister.
On Thursday, Seznam Zprávy published a follow-up report in which the governor of the Pardubice region, Martin Netolický, a Social Democrat, claimed Hamáček told him on April 15 that he would soon travel to Russia and bring back 1 million Sputnik V doses, saving their party from an electoral debacle in the process.
“I have it all arranged,” Hamáček reportedly said.
However, no mention was made in the conversation of the 2014 bombing and Russian complicity, which was made public two days later. In addition, comments on the Biden-Putin summit in Prague were incidental, Netolický said.
Hamáček’s desire to bring Biden and Putin to Prague was no secret. On April 14, he tweeted that he had instructed Czech ambassadors in Washington and Moscow to offer the Czech capital as “a possible meeting place, following on from the Obama-Medvedev summit.”
Then-U.S. President Barack Obama met his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in Prague on April 8, 2010.
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