Close contacts between two ODS ministers and ‘godfather’ lobbyist revealed

Agriculture and environment ministers reportedly consulted controversial lobbyist about privatization of Prague airport

foto: © Profimedia, ČESKÁ POZICEČeská pozice

Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl and Environment Minister Tomáš Chalupa were in close contact with the controversial lobbyist Roman Janoušek, dubbed the “gray eminence” of the Prague chapter of the Civic Democrats (ODS), when they were, respectively, Central Bohemia governor and Prague 6 mayor, the server DenikInsider.cz reported Monday evening. 

Transcripts of the wiretaps conducted by the Czech domestic intelligence agency BIS in 2007, published last month by the daily Mláda fronta Dnes, indicate that former Prague mayor Pavel Bém (ODS) and Janoušek, also known as the “Prague ODS godfather,” colluded on key decisions involving the allocation of Prague public funds, public tenders, and municipal property during Bém’s time in office.

The revelation that Janoušek was also in contact with Bendl and Chalupa widens the scope of suspected cronyism within the center-right party. Now it appears that they, like Bém, also “consulted” Janoušek on commercial dealings with public property.

Accordind to DenikInsider.cz, in the autumn of 2007, Bendl exchanged 12 text messages with Janoušek and spoke with him three times. In the same two-month period, Chalupa spoke with Janoušek nine times via mobile phone and exchanged eight text messages with him. While the two ministers admit they were in contact with Janoušek, they are both playing down the significance of their acquaintance — and both claim they have forgotten what they spoke about.

Amnesia

‘Undoubtedly Janoušek is a person who always had interesting information about developments in Prague’“Undoubtedly [Janoušek] is a person who always had interesting information about developments in Prague, but what we spoke about then, whether we spoke and how many times, I really cannot recall now,” Chalupa told TV Nova on Monday evening.

Despite his apparent amnesia, Chalupa has confirmed what many observers have claimed for several years: “It’s also without doubt that Roman Janoušek was a part of Prague; everyone knew him and I also definitely spoke with him sometime, but I really don’t have an idea what the subject was or how many times we spoke,” he said.

Bendl reacted more defensively to the revelation about his contacts with the lobbyist. “I categorically refute that I was Janoušek’s hot line to the government. There was no intensive communication,” he told the news sever.

Only at the time of the conversations of which there are records Bendl was not in the government, but a regional governor. This raises the question as to whether Bendl has maintained close contacts with Janoušek.

According to the daily Lidové noviny, it is possible that Janoušek discussed the privatization of Prague’s Ruzýně international airport with the ODS members. According to TV Nova’s information, in 2007 Janoušek was also in close contact with then-transport minister Aleš Řebiček, and also then-prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, if not directly then through his right-hand man, PR man and lobbyist Marek Dalík.

Wiretaps of conversations between Janoušek and Bém made public in recent days revealed that their relationship went far beyond playing tennis together as Bém consistently insisted for many years and prompted the former Prague mayor to suspend his membership in the ODS.

The controversy surrounding Janoušek intensified when on March 23, he intentionally ran over a woman who tried to stop him driving away from a red light after he crashed into her car. Janoušek fled the scene and when police caught up with him trying to hide in a parkhe was found at around 10:30 a.m. to have 2.2‰ alcohol in his blood, suggesting he had been boozing through the night.

Lenient treatment

All draft bills to regulate lobbying have to date been scuttled in parliament thus lobbying remains an undefined and unregulated activity in the Czech Republic.      Police have come under fire for not testing Janoušek for drugs at least using a swipe, as he refused to undergo a blood test, allowing him to make unlimited calls on his mobile after detention, for questioning him when still drunk rather than locking him up until sober, and releasing him without charge. Police later formally charged him with endangering other when under the influence of an addictive substance, and grievous bodily harm, charges which can carry up to ten years.    

Television reporters who arrived at the scene where police detained Janoušek caught him on camera thanking the police for the “informal negotiations.”         

Now vilified in the public eye, Janoušek, who is not officially an ODS member and categorically refuses to speak to the press, has become synonymous with corrupt practices and cronyism within the ODS and political elite. According to the daily Hospodářské noviny, he has around Kč 2 billion hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

Czech Television (ČT) reported Monday evening that in response to the police’s apparently lenient handling of Janoušek after his hit-and-run escapade, the police’s anticorruption unit (ÚOKFK) is reviewing previous investigations involving the lobbyist, including the blocking of “hundreds of millions” of crowns on Swiss bank accounts under suspicion the money was laundered.

“If we discover that some measures and proceedings were not taken and in those matters cases were closed, for example, there is nothing preventing the reopening of such cases,” ÚOKFK spokesman Jaroslav Ibehej told Czech Television.

The daily tabloid Blesk, which now labels Janoušek a criminal, reported that he left his luxury modern villa — for which he received planning permission after it was built — for the first time in 10 days on Monday.

There has been speculation that the leak of the wiretaps of the conversations between Janoušek and Bém may have been released by a rival lobbyist-go-power broker behind the scenes of the ODS and the Public Affairs (VV) party. Janoušek is by no means the only lobbyist capable of pulling strings behind the scenes of the ODS party.

All draft bills to regulate lobbying have to date been scuttled in parliament thus lobbying remains an undefined and unregulated activity in the Czech Republic.