'No evidence' of Russian involvement in explosion, says Czech president

Miloš Zeman has "questioned the credibility of his own country's security services" responded Pirate leader Ivan Bartoš after a TV interview.


Written by ČTK Published on 25.04.2021 14:08:00 (updated on 26.04.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

Russia should pay for the terrorist attack on Czech soil, but only if the involvement of Russian agents in a 2014 blast at the Vrbětice ammunition depot is confirmed, President Milos Zeman said today. Possible repercussions would include the elimination of Russian company Rosatom from the tender for the completion of the Dukovany nuclear plant, he added.

However, Zeman said that according to a report drafted by the Czech counter-intelligence agency BIS, there was "no evidence" that Russian agents were in the Vrbětice warehouse.

"However, it does not mean that the suspicion of their involvement is not serious," Zeman added.

Zeman said he fully trusted the Czech police and the Supreme State Attorney's office that is supervising the investigation. Zeman said he wanted "the Czech Republic's citizens to be fully informed, and nothing to be kept secret."

Zeman spoke about the case for the first time a week after it was disclosed to the public. In his speech, he did not say anything about the ongoing diplomatic rift with Russia.

After findings on the incident were published, the Czech Republic expelled 18 employees of the Russian embassy in Prague. Russia dismissed the allegations,and responded by expelling 20 employees of the Czech embassy in Moscow. On Thursday, the Czech Foreign Ministry decided to expel more Russian diplomats from the Czech Republic.

After his speech, Zeman told Prima television station he would welcome Russian experts on economic and cultural cooperation to the country, but not spies. He said in recent days he did not have contact with Russian counterparts, and as far as he knew, neither had his aides.

Zeman said he doubted Russia would extradite the agents.

"I would welcome it if Russia extradited the agents, but I doubt this," he added.

He said he considered Russia's reaction negative, because the Czech diplomats did not do anything wrong.

"If the suspicion is refuted, it arises from this that this was an intelligence game that can have a major impact on our internal political life. Let us wait without hysteria and speculations for the results of the investigation, and only then let us make a decision," he added.

Opposition leaders have sharply criticized Zeman's remarks.

"They will be satisfied in Moscow," remarked Senator Jiří Drahoš, Zeman's opponent in the last presidential elections.

"Evidence has been presented in the House, and also to our EU and NATO partners," tweeted Pirate leader Ivan Bartoš.

"Nevertheless, the President speaks at the level of hypotheses and questions the credibility of his own country's security services. I believe that despite this relativizing speech, the Czech government will continue its confident policy."

Zeman said the police investigation was working under the hypothesis that one of the owners of Imex, the Czech company that operated the depot, could have shown the Russian agents around the warehouse.

"The suspicion should be either refuted or confirmed. At any rate, if it is proven that they were there, there will be no longer any discussion," he added.

Zeman said that an Imex employee had refused to undergo a polygraph test, which may raise doubts.

According to media reports, the warehouse stored ammunition that belonged to Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev. According to one hypothesis, this ammunition was to be shipped to Ukraine.

Zeman stated today that the Bulgarian connection has been proven.

No sovereign country can allow two agents of a foreign country to carry out a terrorist assassination in which two citizens died and damages of billions of crowns occurred on its territory, Zeman said.

"On the other hand, we are working with two investigative versions. The first, the original one, says the explosion occurred due to unprofessional handling of the explosive material. The second, that this was an action of a foreign intelligence service. I take both versions seriously and I hope they are thoroughly investigated," Zeman said.

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