Amidst Fraud Allegations, Czech Justice Minister Appointment Sparks Nationwide Outcry
Recent events have thrown the independence of the Czech judiciary into doubt and controversy. Only one day after official allegations were launched against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš for his involvement in a nearly 50 million euro scandal of EU funding fraud, Czech Justice Minister Jan Kněžínek unexpectedly stepped down with no reasoning as to why. Directly following the Justice Minister’s resignation, Prime Minister Babiš proposed Marie Benešová to the post, a current advisor and political ally of Czech President Miloš Zeman. Given Babiš and Zeman’s close ties, Benešová’s seemingly loyalist appointment taking place on Apr. 30 sparked outcry and protest across the country.
On Monday, Apr. 29 over 10,000 protesters marched across the capital city of Prague from the president’s offices in Prague Castle to Old Town Square. Similarly, in Brno, the country’s second largest city and the seat of the government’s judiciary, reportedly 3,000 citizens turned out to protest. Nearly 105 individual protests were launched on Monday to speak out against Benešová’s politically unsavory assignment, a significant feat in a country only about 10.6 million people in total.
The controversy stems from the alliances forged between Benešová, Babiš, and President Zeman. Notoriously, Zeman and Babiš have been long linked as political allies, and Benešová’s political party has served since 2013 as a coalition backer of Babiš’ ANO party to be in office. Moreover, in the official police decisions towards launching fraud allegations against Babiš, Benešová notably voted against doing so. Thus, Benešová’s demonstrated political loyalty has aroused public unrest surrounding her appointment as Justice Minister, a role which would enable her to exert considerable control and direction over the proceedings of Babiš’ unfolding criminal case.
Czech judicial representatives and other political opposition leaders have voiced their dismay on the situation and denounced what appears to be quite blatant political engineering on behalf of Zeman’s loyalists to aid Babiš in avoiding the fraud charges. However, despite these outcries and protests, Benešová was sworn in on Tuesday, Apr. 30. Babiš continues to maintain his innocence and claims the allegations brought against him are merely a political plot to remove him from office.