Women the Fall Guys in Eastern Europe's Sex Scandals
Love has caused the downfall of at least two influential Eastern European politicians recently: Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. Of all the similarities in the two cases, the most striking is that the women end up taking the rap.
Necas's significant other is Jana Nagyova, a former provincial accountant who served as his chief of staff for more than six years. Nagyova long denied rumors that the two were lovers. In a 2011 interview with the weekly Tyden, she related a sob story on how the stress of Necas's 2010 campaign for prime minister had ended her relationship with an unspecified man: “My friend just could not handle the pressure."
Necas explained the large bonuses he paid Nagyova by saying that she “worked like a horse." Czechs sniggered. Media painted a more venal picture: Nagyova wielded enormous power, was jealous of women working closely with Necas and frequented Prague boutiques, spending far more than her salary allowed. In June 2013, 400 police raided government offices, including Necas's and Nagyova's, where they found stashes of cash and gold. Prosecutors charged the chief of staff with various transgressions, from using Czech military intelligence to spy on Necas' estranged wife to offering parliamentary deputies jobs in state companies if they went along with Necas's fiscal reforms.
Nagyova, 49, spent a month in jail and is still awaiting trial, which could end in a five-year prison term. The Czech parliament disbanded itself for the first time in history to allow voters to sweep out the former prime minister's disgraced party.
Necas resigned soon after the police operation, but he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. Late last week, he married Nagyova in a secret ceremony. There was speculation that the wedding was meant to give Nagyova a legal reason not to testify against her new husband. In fact, she and her lawyer had already refused to give testimony on the grounds that she and Necas were in a close personal relationship.
The Russian defense minister's love interest is Yevgenia Vasilyeva, 34, a former real-estate developer who joined the ministry as his chief of staff in 2010. Insiders quickly noticed a certain informality in Vasilyeva's relations with Serdyukov. After generals reportedly complained about her high-handedness, Serdyukov shifted her to the ministry's property department. In Oct. 2012, investigators burst in to search Vasilyeva's apartment in Central Moscow, where they found Serdyukov along with cash, paintings and antiques.
Vasilyeva is now awaiting trial. So far, she has been charged with siphoning off tens of millions of dollars from the Russian military. It's hard to say what prison term she may face, because new charges keep coming. Placed under house arrest, Vasilyeva is allowed to spend three hours a day outside her apartment. She uses the time to frequent Moscow boutiques.
Serdyukov, for his part, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. His wife divorced him last year, and President Vladimir Putin fired him amid the corruption investigation. A photographer recently captured a wedding band on the ring finger of Vasilyeva's right hand, Russian Orthodox style, which gave rise to rumors that she and Serdyukov have been secretly married. Both the ex-minister and his ex-chief of staff have refused to testify against one another.
All told, the mistresses are in far more legal trouble than their beaus. Both women appear to have remained loyal to their men even under threat of prison time. Hard as it is to imagine that Necas did not know of Nagyova's shenanigans, or Serdyukov of Vasilyeva's, investigators will have a difficult time pursuing that line of inquiry without the women's cooperation.
In Eastern Europe, love is still a woman's burden. Even strong, highly accomplished women are willing to risk all for their men, and the men accept the sacrifice without any sentimental chivalry. One hopes Necas and Serdyukov are at least providing some support behind the scenes. Given the apparent level of corruption in both countries -- Russia ranks 133rd of 174 countries by perceived corruption level, and the Czech Republic is 54th -- they should be able to make things easier for their lovers.
(Leonid Bershidsky, an editor and novelist, is a Bloomberg View contributor. Follow him on Twitter.)