Former Prague mayor and MP Pavel Bém has temporarily suspended his membership in the Civic Democratic Party in the wake of a lobbying scandal. Mr Bém said he believes the case will be duly investigated within some six months and that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing. Police are investigating recordings of telephone conversations between Bém and construction tycoon Roman Janoušek that suggest that the latter had excessive influence on city governance as a lobbyist. The party leadership called on Bém to suspend his party membership on Monday or risk being expelled. Party chairman and Prime Minister Petr Nečas recommended he also resign from Parliament. The transcripts are being published by the daily Mladá fronta Dnes, which claims they were made by the Czech intelligence agency BIS in 2007 and were acquired by the detective agency ABL some two years later.
The parliamentary committee investigating whether the wiretaps were leaked from Security Information Service, BIS, to the detective agency ABL adjourned after ten minutes on Tuesday after its chairman objected to one of its members. Committee chairman Richard Dolejš, a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party, told reporters afterwards that he had asked the prime minister to replace Public Affairs member David Kádner, who was formerly an employee of ABL, or at least bar his presence from discussions regarding the leak from BIS to ABL. Mr Kádner himself refused to quit the committee, denying any conflict of interest and calling the move unconstitutional and undemocratic.
In related news, Police President Petr Lessy has called on the head of the Prague police department, Martin Vondrášek, to take personal responsibility for mistakes made in the detention of Roman Janoušek on Friday. The lobbyist is suspected of having run down a woman after denting her car while intoxicated and then avoiding the police, just days after the wiretapping scandal broke. Mr Lessy said that Janoušek should have been detained on the spot and the state attorney informed; he should not have been allowed to use his telephone and should not have been released after making a statement but placed in a cell, if for no other reason than that he may have tried to escape again, or influence a witness. Lessy said the officers’ mistakes had threatened the entire course of the criminal proceedings. Janoušek was charged with grievous heavy bodily harm under the influence of an addictive substance.
The Public Affairs party is calling for a coalition discussion on multi-billion crown cuts in the Ministry of Education. After a meeting of the party’s executive council Tuesday morning, deputy party chairwoman Karolína Peake said that the planned 2.5 billion crown cut would mean changing the political promises made for the Education Ministry, which would have to be discussed with their coalition partners. Public Affairs’ Josef Dobeš resigned as education minister last week, citing his disagreement with the cuts. The ministry will temporarily be run by deputy minister Ladislav Němec until a new candidate is selected.
Convicted Czech entrepreneur Tomáš Pitr, who has been in police custody in Switzerland since July of 2010, has withdrawn his application for asylum and will be extradited to the Czech Republic. The Justice Ministry announced Tuesday that it had received an official statement from the Swiss authorities on the matter. Pitr´s lawyer recently told the media that he would return to the Czech Republic because he believed his right to a fair trial was starting to be respected and he wanted to be closer to his family. In 2006, a Czech court sentenced Pitr, one of the richest men in the Czech Republic, to five years in prison for tax fraud worth 51 million crowns. He failed to report to prison, however, and has been hiding abroad since mid-2007.
Police from the organised crime unit carried out two major raids on Tuesday morning in various parts of the country. The first was aimed at right-wing extremists who they believe were responsible for a recent arson attack on a block of flats in the western city of Aš. The second involved suspected human trafficking. Police would not provide details but said the raids were extensive and were the result of several months of detective work.
President Václav Klaus threw his weight behind Bulgaria´s bid to enter the Schengen Area while on a working visit to the country on Tuesday. The Czech president said the bid was being rejected due to ignorance about Bulgaria and its being underrated by other EU countries. The Netherlands in particular has opposed the entry of Bulgaria to the zone. Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev stressed that his country meets all Schengen membership conditions and firmly controls its border with Turkey.
A discussion on the future of the Žižkov Cargo Station on Tuesday found that its reconstruction would cost between five and eight billion crowns. The former railway station has been in limbo for years as developers, activists and the local government have argued over how best to use it. Many consider the structure an important technical monument and would like to see it preserved. Present at the meeting was Culture Minister Alena Hanáková, who is to decide on whether the site should be made a monument. The local town hall has decided that an agreement must be reached on the matter as soon as possible as the structure is in a worsening state of disrepair.
Kometa Brno, the surprise so far of this year’s Tipsport Extraliga hockey playoffs, continued to catch their opponents off guard on Monday, this time by winning the opener of their semi-final series against Plzeň by a score of 4:3. Kometa managed to turn around a game they began poorly, at first looking sluggish on their skates and falling behind by two goals in the opening minutes. Gradually the team was able to get back into the swing of it, trailing 2:1. Brno completed the comeback in the 3rd period when the club added two: Jakub Svoboda scored the winner, getting the puck just under the bar. The teams face each other again in Game 2 on Tuesday.
An association of senior citizens is calling for a series of demonstrations against the government’s planned cuts and their effects on retirees. The first of the protests is to take place in the second half of May at Palachovo Náměstí in Prague; others are reportedly in planning. Among other things, the organisations oppose the planned deceleration of pension growth, which they say would further worsen the standard of living of retirees in the Czech Republic, which is already one third less than the European average.