(You better) Czech yourself before you wreck yourself

 

Last Sunday, over 250,000 people took to the streets in Prague to demand the resignation of prime minister Andrej Babiš. It was the biggest act of dissent in the Czech Republic since the 1989 velvet revolution that brought Communism to a collapse.

Ironically, Babiš was elected on an anti-corruption campaign in 2017, but has since become a billionaire and the country’s second richest person, leading many to point out the various conflicts between his political and business interests. Pressure increased after two leaked European Commission audits appeared to suggest misuse of EU subsidies to Agrofert, a conglomerate that Babiš himself owns.

What’s interesting to note is that these historic demonstrations were organised by a student movement, Million Moments for Democracy, proving that you don’t need to be old, rich or influential to hold power to account. That is precisely the theme we tackle in our latest issue, for which we profiled the most important movers and shakers in Europe.

In the Czech Republic, Priscille Biehlmann profiled Pavla Holcová, an investigative journalist who uncovered a riveting tale of corruption in the Czech Republic, namely that of the Italian mafia, which has been using the country for its money laundering operations. Holcová traced how the group had invested more than 500 million euros in Eastern European real estate, which was dirt cheap after the fall of the communist regimes in the 1990s, only to leave the properties completely untouched.

“Money laundering means that you've got something that looks legit, and you report that it is super profitable,” Holcová explained. “So back in Italy they could say ‘Yeah, we have this super luxury hotel in Prague'—but of course the 'luxury hotel' could be a totally abandoned building.” She also found that the group has been using Prague as a sort of logistical center for its global traffic of cocaine.

“These ‘Ndrangheta members are sitting in Prague, sipping coffee as we are right now, deciding whether, for example, it's going to be safer to buy the next ton of cocaine in Peru and ship in through Callao, or if it would better to ship it first through Brazil and then send it on to Europe,” she said. “The cocaine doesn’t even need to touch the Czech Republic.”