Controversial Prague lobbyist charged with bodily harm; may face further charges connected to wire tap scandal

Roman Janoušek, photo: TV Nova

Prague police have charged the controversial lobbyist Roman Janoušek with menacing behaviour due to intoxication as well as grievous bodily harm. On Friday, Mr Janoušek crashed his Porsche into another car in Prague 4, then hit its driver as he attempted to flee. The news came as the construction tycoon already found himself in the headlines due to a scandal over leaked wire taps of conversations between him and former mayor of Prague Pavel Bém.

Roman Janoušek,  photo: TV Nova
Over the weekend, headlines in the Czech media were dominated by one of the most controversial figures in Prague: powerful businessman and lobbyist Roman Janoušek. The 43- year-old was arrested late Friday morning after crashing into a car and injuring its 51-year-old driver, who, reports suggest, was trying to stop him from hitting other vehicles. According to eyewitnesses, the lobbyist proceeded to at first drive and then run away from the site of the accident. The injured woman is currently being treated at hospital.

There is no doubt that Mr Janoušek was intoxicated during the incident: A subsequent blood test found he had a high level of blood alcohol. But, in a breach of standard procedure, he was interrogated by police without first being put in a drunk tank, then let go after several hours. Many have slammed the police for their conduct and have labelled these procedures highly unusual. Among them is political analyst Jiří Pehe.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
“We have seen, unfortunately, that police really treat some people in a different way than others. The same standards do not apply for everyone. That is potentially devastating for the notion of democracy in this country, which has already been shaken by many other scandals.”

Mr Janoušek’s arrest came fresh on the heels of a highly publicized scandal that unfolded last week, following the publication of leaked wiretaps by the daily Mladá fronta dnes. In the recordings, the construction tycoon addresses former Prague mayor Pavel Bém with the nickname “kolibřík” (“hummingbird” in English) while discussing the city’s zoning plans and the sale of city property. The conversations, and the numerous apparent uses of code words, shed fresh light on the inner workings of Prague City Hall, already perceived by many as a hotbed of corruption and cronyism. Analyst Pehe believes Mr Janoušek’s influence may be even more far-reaching than the most recent phone leaks indicate.

“The relations of Mr Janoušek and some other shadowy figures who profit from connections to politicians may be much more extensive and involve many more people than just Mr Bém. So the efforts to limit damage by the Civic Democrats, claiming it was his private affair, are doomed. Simply because Mr Janoušek was on good terms with many people, not just from that party and not just in Prague. I am also afraid that he also exercised a lot of influence over the state attorney’s office in Prague and police, which could be an explanation for why he was treated the way he was after a hit-and-run accident.”

Pavel Bém,  photo: Tomáš Adamec
The Prague chapter of the Civic Democrats, of which Mr Bém is a member, has been holding a meeting to discuss the matter on Monday. Its leader, current Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, has said that while he does not wish to expel him from the party, Mr Bém should consider voluntarily giving up his membership. Meanwhile, Mr Janoušek could face a prison sentence of up to ten years if convicted of the most serious charges related to Friday’s drunk-driving incident.