Prague- Czech politicians reacted with surprise and embarrassment to the information that state-owned energy giant ČEZ, one of the most important players in the European energy market, has for years maintained and trained a special unit against those who were stealing electricity.
Finance Minister Eduard Janota is expected to be questioned about the issue by the parliament in the following days.
„Using a paramilitary group to enforce law is unacceptable. I will ask minister Janota about the issue," says head of the Defense Committee of the Chamber of Deputies Jan Vidím (Civic Democrats, ODS).
The existence of the unit called NTZ (odbor Netechnických ztrát, or Non-Technical Losses section) was revealed after lawyer Jan Rytíř handed over to Czech media a 3-hour cut of the footage confiscated by police from the NTZ.
The footage shows NTZ members being trained in shooting, hand-to-hand combat, rapelling or survival in extreme conditions. Other parts of the footage show actual raids conducted by men strongly resembling a special police commando - dressed in black with large yellow "NTZ" signs on their backs.
Tragedy during a raid
The issue is already being investigated by police. According to the investigation conducted by the anti-organized crime division (ÚOOZ), the NTZ applied excessive psychological pressure against payment evaders.
The most disturbing part of the 3-hour edit shows the body of a man that committed suicide during a NTZ raid in 2005 in Poděbrady.
Jiří Paroubek (Social Democracy, ČSSD) who was PM at that time says he was not aware that ČEZ had its own commando. Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD), who was Finance Minister in Paroubek's government, refused to comment it at all. „I have no information on this, so I will not tell you anything," said Sobotka when answered whether he was aware of the unit.
It needs to be explained that the Finance Ministry is the holder of the ČEZ shares and the minister is responsible for the communication with the energy giant.
Interior Minister: Payment evaders? No nice guys
Current Finance Minister Eduard Janota appears to be no wiser. „I can imagine ČEZ having a group that tries to disclose payment evaders or false purchasers. However, the law applies for everyone. I know no details of the case. If the information is relevant, I will discuss it with the management of ČEZ," said Janota.
However, the NTZ found a somehow reluctant apologist in the person of Interior Minister Martin Pecina. „These people (the NTZ) deal with people such as marihuana growers, who are no nice guys. However it is not right that the same pressure is applied against ordinary citizens," Pecina said, adding that the case is being submitted to the court.
"RWE or E.ON have them too"
„The problem is there is no law on private security companies which would regulate this sector that now employs more people than police," security expert of ČSSD Jeroným Tejc said. Even he however refused to further comment the issue.
Head of the supervisory board of ČEZ Martin Kocourek (ODS) who is also shadow Finance Minister says he sees no problem with the existence of the NTZ.
„Every energy firm has such a division, I believe that RWE or E.ON would be no different," Kocourek said to Aktuálně.cz.
He added that ČEZ has been repeatedly accused of illegal activities against payment dodgers. „We have had all types of audits, and no wrongdoing has ever been discovered," said Kocourek, who even believes that the footage in question is not authentic.
„That what has appeared (in media) is, according to my opinion, not authentic. We can verify it, but what will be the outcome of it?"
However, Jan Rytíř says the footage comes out of the police file he was allowed to look into since he is the defendant's lawyer in the case. Rytíř said to Aktuálně.cz that he has a police protocol that proves that the DVD with the footage comes from the police file.
„I will be interested whether they carried guns. I will probably look at it, maybe," concluded Kocourek.