PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech republic's long-running corruption scandal among high officials boiled up again on Monday when Czech police brought charges against a close associate of a former prime minister over a deal to buy armored personnel carriers.
Graft among the political class has dominated public debate in the central European country and hurt the popularity of the main political parties.
The centre-right cabinet of Prime Minister Petr Necas, in power since 2010, has beefed-up legislation on public procurement and appointed new prosecutors who have taken a more aggressive stance, bringing charges against current and former players in both government and opposition camps.
High State Attorney Lucie Bradacova said police have charged Marek Dalik, an adviser to Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek during his term in 2006-2009, with fraud in relation to the government's purchase of 107 Pandur armed personnel carriers from Austria in 2009 for 14.4 billion crowns ($756.34 million).
"The corruption and financial crime unit has detained...one person in connection with the Pandur case," Bradacova told Czech Television on Monday, identifying the person as Dalik.
Earlier documents leaked to Czech media had alleged that a manager for Austrian firm Steyr, a unit of U.S. firm General Dynamics that makes the carriers, told investigators that Dalik asked for a bribe of 18 million euros to secure the deal.
A U.S. embassy cable leaked by Wikileaks last year also cited a Steyr official as saying Dalik had sought a bribe.
Dalik, who faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted, had earlier denied he had sought any bribes. Topolanek has also denied any irregular procedures in the contract.
A Steyr spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Earlier this year, police charged Governor of Central Bohemia David Rath, from the opposition Social Democrats, with taking bribes after catching him with a box containing 7 million crowns, which they say was a bribe for a construction contract.
The parliament has stripped the immunity of former defense minister Vlasta Parkanova, suspected of signing an unfavorably priced deal to buy military transport planes. Another former defense minister, Martin Bartak, has been charged with allegedly demanding bribes in a case involving the purchase of army trucks.
All deny any wrongdoing.
Last week, Labor Minister Jaromir Drabek said he would resign at the end of October after his deputy was charged with corruption.
($1 = 19.0391 Czech crowns)
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in Vienna; Editing by Michael Roddy)
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