Czech university mired in Chinese influence scandal

Kathrin Hille in Taipei and James Shotter:

Prague’s Charles University is being shaken by a scandal over secret Chinese payments to four of its faculty members, amid concerns that Beijing could use its ties with some Czech politicians to build influence in academia.

The university, one of the world’s oldest academic institutions, fired Milos Balaban, until recently head of the university’s Centre for Security Policy (SBP), and two other members of the social sciences faculty last week. The move came after the school discovered they had set up a private company under the name of SBP which was paid by the Chinese embassy for conferences co-organised by the university centre.

The payments, first revealed by Czech news outlet Aktualne, have triggered a university probe of several companies owned by Mr Balaban, Mirka Kortusová, a financial and project manager at the CSP, and Libor Stejskal and Jan Ludvík, two research fellows at the centre.

“In light of current findings, we can see how vulnerable universities are to foreign influence,” said faculty spokesman Jakub Riman. “We believe this is a broad risk and we aim to prevent anything like that from repeating in the future and getting to the bottom of it.”