PRAGUE Czech prosecutors asked the lower house of parliament to lift the immunity of former prime minister Petr Necas on Monday, the first time in the country's modern history that a head of government may face criminal charges.
Necas, 48, quit as prime minister last month after a close aide was charged with bribery and abuse of office, but he remains a member of parliament and has parliamentary immunity.
The scandal was a surprising by-product of a wider police investigation of graft, seen by most Czechs as widespread in the EU member state which shook off communism in 1989.
Prosecutors have shown a growing willingness to go after corruption in the past two years and this has been viewed as one of the major achievements of the Necas administration.
Necas's closest aide, Jana Nagyova, was accused of offering three parliamentary deputies posts in state companies in return for dropping a rebellion against the prime minister last year.
A parliamentary spokeswoman and the prosecutor supervising the case, Ivo Istvan, both declined to say what the intended charges against Necas were.
But Jiri Dolejs, a member of parliament's immunity committee who saw the request, told Reuters they included bribery.
Necas denied any wrongdoing.
"Political agreements cannot be considered as criminal activity because that would have to apply to many other analogical cases in the past and present," Necas said.
"On top of that, there was no agreement on offering posts in return for parliamentary resignations. Therefore it is not clear to me what I should be charged with," he said in a statement.
Some Czech commentators and lawyers have sided with Necas's view and the case could thus help to define the line between political horse-trading and unacceptable behaviour.
Jiri Rusnok, a leftist ally of President Milos Zeman, has replaced Necas and his full cabinet is expected to be appointed on Wednesday. But this is unlikely to end the country's political crisis. Rusnok lacks the support of any main political party and has little chance of winning a vote of confidence.
Necas's former aide Nagyova has also been charged with ordering illegal spying of the outgoing premier's wife. Nagyova's lawyer said she denied part of the charges and had acted in good faith.
Necas, a conservative and a father of four, has said he was not aware of any illegal surveillance and apologised to anyone it may have affected. He and his wife filed for divorce last month, before the scandal broke.
The centre-right Civic Democrats said they would not support lifting the immunity of their former leader if prosecutors do not have additional evidence.
A coalition partner in the outgoing cabinet, the conservative TOP09, said it was too early to say whether it saw the allegations as well-founded.
The parliament's immunity committee is due to discuss the prosecutor's request on July 17. The full house will vote on it some time after that.
Necas is not the first Czech prime minister to leave under a cloud of scandal. Vaclav Klaus resigned in 1997 after his party was accused of illegal financing.
Stanislav Gross quit in 2005 because he could not prove where he made money to pay for a new apartment.
(Additional reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Gareth Jones)