New Czech president won’t move into Prague Castle over Russian spying fears
The Czech Republic’s president-elect has ordered a sweep of his new office, fearing that he could be spied on by Chinese and Russian intelligence officers after moving in.
Petr Pavel, a retired Nato commander and former head of the Czech armed forces, swept to victory in the country’s elections last month on an Atlanticist, pro-European platform.
After his inauguration, Mr Pavel told local media that Prague Castle, the seat of the head of state, would be inspected for listening devices.
He said that the venue is unsatisfactory from a security point of view, adding he would not work there until it is “cleaned up”.
Mr Pavel, who is set to take office next month, openly cited concerns of “eavesdropping” for not wanting to take office in the castle.
“In addition, such a flagrant violation of all rules is that a private security agency now operates at the Castle, which has almost unlimited access to everything and is not subject to police control,” he told Respekt, a Czech newspaper.
His claims came amid fears that an adviser to Milos Zeman, the outgoing president who is considered one of the Kremlin’s closest allies in Europe, had his phone bugged.
The unofficial adviser is reported to be Martin Nejedly, a former head of a Czech subsidiary of Lukoil, the Russian oil producer.
During Mr Zeman’s tenure, the Czech intelligence service had previously warned of Russian and Chinese influence.
He only appeared to turn his back on Vladimir Putin after the Russian president ordered his troops to seize Kyiv last February.
During his two terms in office, Mr Zeman attempted to transform Prague into “China’s gateway to Europe”, but most of the promised investments failed to materialise.
One of Mr Pavel’s first moves after winning the election was to confront the European Union’s misconceptions about China, which he said are exposed by Beijing’s unwillingness to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
His victory over Andrej Babis, a billionaire former prime minister and his populist rival, marks a significant step by the Czech Republic to move away from Russia and China.