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Wednesday, 12 February 2014 | MYT 4:40 AM

Former Czech PM Necas charged in graft scandal that brought down his cabinet - media

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Police have charged former Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas with bribery in a scandal that brought down his centre-right cabinet last June, local media reported on Tuesday.

Necas, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, resigned after police raided government offices on suspicion that he had bribed three parliamentary deputies to quell a rebellion among his back-benchers.

A series of graft investigations in the central European country of 10.5 million prompted voters to dump mainstream parties in last October's early election in favour of new groups pledging to clean up politics.

The investigation that brought down Necas has however so far produced no strong evidence of corrupt ties between politics and business which Czechs say must be eradicated.

The catholic Necas, earlier known as "Mr. Clean" of Czech politics because he had avoided any big scandals, has said repeatedly that the deal with the three deputies was political and not criminal in its nature.

"Politics cannot be considered a crime," Necas's attorney Josef Lzicar said on Czech Television in response to the charges.

Necas did not immediately respond to Reuters attempts to contact him directly. The Czech news agency CTK said Ivo Istvan, the state attorney in charge of the case, declined to comment. Reuters could not contact him immediately.

Police have said Necas offered three parliamentary deputies high-ranking positions at state firms in return for dropping a rebellion that threatened to bring him down in 2012.

The three were charged last year but have since been cleared by a court decision on the grounds they were covered by parliamentary immunity. That immunity does not cover Necas.

A second strand of the probe brought charges against Necas's head of cabinet, whom he has since married, of illegally instructing intelligence agents to spy on Necas's then wife. That case has not yet been heard in court.

The third line of investigation has sought to link politicians with powerful businessmen known as "godfathers" who police believe influenced public contracts. There have been no charges in that probe.

The October election was narrowly won by the centre-left Social Democrats of new Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, but the biggest surprise was a strong showing by the new centrist ANO (YES) movement of billionaire businessman Andrej Babis, finance minister in the new cabinet.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)


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