PRAGUE - Police said Feb. 23 they will probe alleged corruption in the purchase of armored vehicles for the Czech Army from Austria's Steyr, a unit of U.S. giant General Dynamics.
"Chief of police Oldrich Martinu has decided to establish a team to investigate the circumstances of the purchase of the Pandur vehicles," the police said in a statement.
The Prague-based DNES daily recently suggested possible corruption in the purchase of 107 vehicles made by Steyr Daimler Puch for 14.4 billion korunas ($760 million, 560 million euros), approved in March 2009.
The Czech government initially signed a 798 million euro deal in June 2006 for 199 armored vehicles but scrapped the order in December 2007 due to problems during testing.
DNES has published a transcript of a hidden-camera interview with two former Steyr managers who mentioned bonuses from the deal for political parties as well as the names of several politicians, including Defense Minister Martin Bartak.
Bartak, former defense minister Karel Kuehnl, and former prime ministers Stanislav Gross and Jiri Paroubek have denied the allegations.
The newspaper also cast doubt on the final price, which it said was three times higher than that of similar vehicles bought by the Portuguese armed forces.
Martinu said he expected the first results of the investigations at the end of March, two months before parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic.
The Pandur II vehicles were bought to replace OT-64 armored vehicles, which the then communist-run Czechoslovak Army introduced in the 1960s, and will be used by Czech Army units on domestic and overseas assignments.