Politics

Controversy in Czech Republic on a missing document about Russian responsibility in Vrbětice explosions

Czech Police found out that a confidential note sent to the president explaining Russia's responsibility in Vrbětice explosions had been shredded. The President office denies any wrongdoings.

Miloš Zeman, President of Czech Republic, and Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
Miloš Zeman (left) and Vladimir Putin (right) during an official visit of the President of Czech Republic in Russia in 2017 | © Office of the President of the Czech Republic

The National Center against Organized Crime visited the President office on January 21 to get its hands on a confidential document written by the Security Information Service (BIS), a Czech intelligence agency active within the country.

They wanted to check if there was a fingerprint of DNA evidence that could trace back to someone who had access to that confidential document without authorization. The highly-sensitive note reportedly stayed for days in the office of the President Miloš Zeman before he reads it.

But law enforcement found out that the confidential note had been shredded, Czech radio Radiožurnál and the news magazine Respekt reported on January 29. The staff first said it was a mistake.

The note explained that two agents of the GRU, the Russian foreign military intelligence agency, were probably responsible for the explosions in Vrbětice.

Czech investigation about Vrbětice still ongoing

In 2014, two ammunition warehouses in Vrbětice mysteriously exploded. Vrbětice is a small town close to the Slovak border where weapons were allegedly dedicated to Ukrainian troops fighting Russia's army.

Shortly after having received the document in April 2021, Czech Republic announced they suspected a Russian military intelligence to have planned the blasts. It led to political clashes between Prague and Moscow that included mutual expulsions of diplomats.

Miloš Zeman originally suggested the explosions were an accident, casting doubts on Russia's involvement. It prompted protests in Prague accusing Zeman to be pro-Russia.

The National Center against Organized Crime and the Czech counterintelligence agency however still investigate on the explosions. It for instance suspects a Czech citizens who could have helped the GRU agents.

Czech Republic also works with Ukraine and Bulgaria where other ammunition depots that blew up are allegedly linked to Vrbětice blasts. The Chief of Police has also been in touch with the FBI Director about the case.

The office of the President claims the document has been shredded following protocol

The office of the President, the Hred for Castle in Czech, didn't deny having shredded the document. However, it rejects any mistake or wrongdoing but instead claims having followed legal procedures and blames the BIS for any mistake.

"From November 29 to December 1, over 500 discarded classified documents have been shredded", the office explained on January 29.

On January 31, Hrad further stated that "unauthorized persons were not acquainted with the content of the document and the protection of classified information was not endangered".

It claims the document was shredded according to the level of confidentiality the BIS gave to the document and followed the usual shredding procedure.

It noted that the document "was delivered to the Castle by the BIS in a gross mess" as it was delivered in an "unusual way, outside working hours and in conflict with valid legislation".

In its note, Hrad questions the reasons for leaks in the media, implies a bizarre amateurism of the Security Information Service, and openly wonders why the Police would be interested in the document only now after it had already been shredded.

But the BIS denied any mess in a document duly handed over and accepted without issue by the Castle. It explained in a statement that a minor administrative error was corrected in the following hours, which didn't affect the gravity of the document.

A Parliament Security Committee will review the case with all the information on February 3.

Read more about Russia

Source
Prohlášení Kanceláře prezidenta republiky, Offce of the President, January 2022, Free access

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