Fresh wiretap scandal shows lobbyist’s influence over Prague City Hall
A new scandal has thrown more light on how deals were made at Prague City Hall, which has frequently come under fire for corrupt practices and cronyism. Leaked phone wiretaps, recorded by the Czech secret service, show how former Prague mayor Pavel Bém’s decisions were supervised by a powerful lobbyist. The police have now launched an investigation into both the contents of the recordings, and how they were leaked.
In other recordings, Mr Bém is discussing the city’s zoning plan which is crucial for the construction businesses, and sale of city property. Sometimes, the two callers used code words such as “dead horse”, “Maori princess” and “Comrade Stump”.
When reporters for the daily Mladá fronta Dnes, which broke the story, asked Pavel Bém about the recordings, the former mayor and current Civic Democrat MP questioned their authenticity, and said the allegations were sickening. His party boss, Prime Minister Petr Nečas however took the issue more seriously.
The police said on Friday that their organized crime and anti-corruption units would investigate the recordings to see whether any crime was committed. But commentator Erik Best says the conversations are too vague to provide any direct evidence of corruption.
“One thing that Mladá fronta Dnes revealed on Friday was that Mr Bém had a separate telephone he used when he wanted to discuss very sensitive information. Because of that, I think that from these wiretaps, we will only get information that is vague and that gives us an indication of what was happening but I don’t think we will get any solid proof of any illegal activity or deals.”
Mr Bárta himself is now being tried for allegedly buying his party MPs’ loyalty. This gave rise to allegations that the recordings’ surfacing might have been a warning to the Civic Democrats who control the Justice Ministry not to push too hard for his conviction.