PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Corruption here. Corruption there. Corruption at the top echelons nearly everywhere. Welcome to the Czech Republic.
And let me be clear -- I find no joy in writing this. I have interacted with Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic for more than 25 years. The people of the country have been good to me. But it is time to stop pretending the country is some sort of model for business and political ethics.
And, painfully, instead of an outcry, most everyone in politics and business, and even the media, turn a blind eye. Young politicians learn quickly either to be quiet or to join in. Top business in the Czech Republic is even worse -- they have fine-tuned corruption into an art form.
Most normal souls -- most Czechs -- find it all disgraceful and very embarrassing but few have dared to fight it. And when they have, most are simply ignored. Some have ended up in the hospital or even in the morgue.
Led by the former Communist and Apparatchik class and their offspring; abetted by a generation of 30-something young Czechs who have zero values and revolting role-models; and Western corporations who couldn't give one rats -- corruption is in full swing in the Land of Bohemia.
My dissident friends are mostly exhausted and want to move on. Some of my business friends increasingly find me uncomfortable to be around because they don't want to be involved. Among several pseudo-not-for-profits dominated by the Communist elite, an organization called Comenius -- whose founder Karel Muzikar was an agent in the StB (Communist Secret Police) -- regularly slag off the Prague Society and me behind our backs.
Since Muzikar will again deny it, I invite all to look at his file in the Security Services Archive, responsible for cataloging the data on the Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes. His reference numbers are 26019 and 21458, date of birth Feb. 2, 1940, under the code names "Kurt" and "Zdenek. Welcome to reality Mr. Muzikar. You and your ilk deserve jail time, not careers in a burgeoning democracy.
In fact, it isn't just his Communist past that stands out; his business ethics -- like many in his class -- are abhorrent and revolting. In fact, he has passed it down to his son, a partner in the Czech subsidiary of the New York Law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges -- which evidently finds it appropriate to turn a blind eye well. Many government contracts they have bid for are rife with corruption. Maybe the partners in New York don't care. Maybe they don't want to know.
Of course, I wait for the time when people like Muzikar dare to tell me to my face the garbage they claim to diplomats and others behind my back. That should be about 1,000 years. And, they are so clueless; they think it won't get back to me. Ah, yes, the Communists were arrogant then, and they continue to be stupid now.
A recent scandal in the defense ministry has been dominating the headlines. It was broken by Mlada Fronta Dnes -- the Czech Republic's largest serious newspaper -- and has been the headlines of the Czech media the last days. It centers on the sale of trucks to the Austrian company Steyer -- a subsidiary of U.S. company General Dynamics. It involves a $761 million contract to buy armored personnel carriers for the Czech army -- the latest in a series of suspected shady military deals.
While many political leaders have been named, including former Prime Ministers Stanislav Gross and Mirek Topolanek, several businessmen and the the two leading political parties, my personal focus is on the current Defense Minister Martin Bartak.
Bartak, even previously as Deputy Defense Minister, has a long history and reputation for being shady. Several sources, including ranking public officials who asked to for anonymity, confirmed to me he is on the take.
Bartak represents the absolute worst of the Czech political class. He has fired highly competent Defense Ministry officials for dubious reasons. I suspect they didn't want to play ball. He regularly issues bold-faced denials about his activities to the press. What a crock!
The Austrian State Attorney and her Czech counterpart have announced investigations. Former staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Prague and Bratislava also confirmed that reports were sent to the FBI in the United States. A source at the FBI has confirmed this as well.
Bartak should resign. He should also be indicted.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should launch investigations under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
It is time to slap these folks down.
It is time to remove their grubby hands from the cookie jar.
(Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney's Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. He has advised political candidates and is a founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)
(The views expressed are Mr. Ellenbogen's and not those of United Press International.)