Embattled former mayor suspends party membership

Pavel Bém, photo: Tomáš Adamec

Former Prague mayor and MP Pavel Bém, of the Civic Democratic Party, has heeded calls from fellow members to suspend his party membership. In a written statement issued on Monday evening, Mr Bém confirmed he would take the step in the wake of the on-going “lobbying scandal” that has raised serious questions about his tenure.

Pavel Bém,  photo: Tomáš Adamec
Recently-leaked wiretaps of conversations the former mayor had with controversial lobbyist and construction tycoon Roman Janoušek suggest that in 2007 something was not quite right at City Hall to put it lightly – with Mr Janoušek apparently wielding considerable behind-the scenes influence. Although only a few snippets of the tapes, reportedly secured by the country’s intelligence agency, BIS, have been released, fellow Civic Democrats, including the prime minister but also Bém’s successor, Bohuslav Svoboda, pushed strongly for the former mayor to put party membership on hold until more is known. On Monday, Mr Svoboda said this:

“I think that it was the only viable step to take and I am very glad that Mr Bém heard my appeal... A politician [on whom doubt has been cast] has to defend himself and can’t bring the party, for which he was elected, into it. This is a fundamental principle for me.”

Critics, though, have charged that without the highly-unexpected release of secret recordings and their publication in Mladá fronta Dnes last week, the party would be doing nothing at all. The argument goes that there must have been some among the Civic Democrats who knew what had gone on in the past, but took no steps. Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, disagrees, drawing a contrast in no-uncertain terms between the former City Hall and his:

Bohuslav Svoboda
“I have to remind you that for a year-and-a-half there has been no influence by any Janoušek or any other lobbyist. When I became mayor, we replaced five people at City Hall, there are no people there from the Civic Democrats who were there before, and we cancelled bad tenders and are dealing with [other problems]. You may not hear about them, but these are the steps we have taken, steps I pledged to handle and have stuck with despite problems they entail.”

For his part, Pavel Bém insists he has done nothing wrong, and maintained the accusations are preposterous. The matter is now being investigated and the former mayor expressed the conviction that within six months his name will be cleared as a more complete picture emerges.