Furore over ‘Babiš police force’s’ power grab
No points for guessing that the plan of the Customs Administration [CS] to nab the national police force’s responsibility for investigating tax-related crime and seizing associated proceeds is backed by ANO party boss Andrej Babiš, whose finance ministry oversees the service.
Babiš presented the concept for the transfer of powers just a day after the former chief of the anti-mafia police unit [ÚOOZ] Robert Šlachta joined the CS’s ranks at its Pardubice office. Šlachta has become a deputy director general for investigations.
Finance minister Babiš would like to bestow powers to investigate all the way through to the initiation of a criminal prosecution and the filing of charges to the 5,000 armed CS personnel. Currently, only the Police of the Czech Republic hold such powers, with customs officers having to surrender their cases to the police. “The intended objective has repeatedly received the support of state prosecutors and the implementation of it would by far exceed the current government’s term of office, so it would be ridiculous to think I am creating a new police force under my command,” remarked Babiš.
His deputy, Alena Schillerová, specified the expected launch year for the new arrangement as 2019. The concept anticipates that customs officers would be authorised to investigate suspected foul play not merely in regard to VAT, consumer taxes and gambling, which they have already been able to pursue since the end of July (or the beginning of the year in some instances), but in relation to any tax. On top of being able to move through the whole investigatory process, they would also gain powers to seek and seize tax crime proceeds.
The plans have ignited yet another clash between the finance minister and Social Democrat interior minister Milan Chovanec, who plans to launch his “financial police” this coming January. “The intention [of the finance ministry] is non-systematic and disregards the successes achieved by collaborations with the ‘Tax Cobra’ police unit. The investigating of crime of any kind must logically stay with the police,” Chovanec said.
Another argument against the idea came from Parliament’s lower chamber deputy chair Jan Bartošek (Christian Democrat): “Concentrating power in a single place defeats the idea of democracy,” he said, alluding to the finance minister’s interests and assets in the political, business and media spheres. Bartošek’s standpoint was echoed by right-wing opposition parties ODS and TOP 09.