Czech civic grouping calls for parliamentary probe of 'mafia' links

Grouping of anti-corruption, cultural and media groups calls on Czech government to probe shady links between crime, lobbyists, politics, and state institutions

Society
Chris Johnstone | 26.04.2012
The organisation "Give us back the state" says the shady links highlighted by the leaked convesation between Pavel Bém (right) and lobbyist Roman Janoušek (background) are only the tip of the iceberg

A grouping of around 20 Czech civic organizations have called for the government to launch an investigation into the links between organized crime, so called political “godfathers,” and state institutions.

The call from the group “Give us back the state” [Vrat’te nám stat], which is made up of 23 cultural and civic organizations, demanded a parliamentary commission be established immediately to probe the shady links between crime, politics and state institutions.  They said the commission should be manned by members of anti-corruption and religious groups, former political prisoners, academics and “other trustworthy people.”

The group also called at a news conference in the Czech second city of Brno for all information gathered in recent years by the Czech domestic espionage service BIS about the “godfathers'” lobbyists and their connections to crime, politicians, and highly placed members of the public administration to be made public. Laws should be changed urgently if necessary to make the two demands possible, it added.

The demand comes in the wage of leaked tapes between former Prague mayor Pavel Bém and lobbyist Roman Janoušek, which suggested close and shady links between the two and confirmed many suspicions about the depth of corruption at Prague City Hall. Bém, elected a member of parliament for the main government party, the Civic Democrats (ODS) in 2010, gave up his membership of the party following the scandal over the tapes, which are widely believed to have originated with the domestic espionage service.

‘We are living in a system where everyone is not equal before the law —  some are more equal.’

But in the weeks since the scandal erupted in March, a parliamentary committee responsible for monitoring the work of the BIS has been unable to get to the bottom of the affair. It’s chairman complained this week that it was largely toothless and said that the government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrat, ODS) did not appear to be interested in the investigation because it was compromised by the scandal.

“From the recordings made public, it is apparent that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the collection of civic groups said on Thursday, adding that public tenders were manipulated, as were competitions to fill top state posts, with attempts to muzzle the media when it tried to reveal some of the abuse.

“We are living in a system where everyone is not equal before the law —  some are more equal. Mafia members are protected before the law, but ordinary citizens are not.  Actual links between politicians and the mafia and hidden links to the justice system and police have allowed theft on a massive scale. The only way to do anything about this is to uncover these structures and close them down,” the initiative added on its web page.

At the bottom of dissatisfaction is the widespread feeling that the state is taking more and giving less to ordinary people while a chosen few steal public assets with impunity.

It also listed a series of other steps through which “the stolen state” could be returned to citizens. These include tough limits on party spending on campaigns and party funding only from individuals with public information about all flows of funding; a law forcing politicians and top public servants to reveal the source of their wealth; the publication of ownership details of all companies seeking or benefitting from public funds; tougher regulation of gaming companies and the laundering of dirty money believed to be taking place through such firms; and a change in the rules governing public service broadcaster so that governing bodies are dominated by representatives of civic and not political groups.

The latest call comes amid a widespread revulsion at the state of Czech politics and public life and indications of mounting support for parties long out of power, such as the communist party (KSČM).

A petition of support posted on the grouping’s website had been signed by around 10,000 people by Thursday evening. At the bottom of dissatisfaction is the widespread feeling that the state is taking more and giving less to ordinary people while a chosen few steal public assets with impunity.

The grouping includes well established anti-corruption groups such as Public against Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Endowment Fund (NFPK); the Artists' Association; human rights watchdog, The Czech branch of the Helsinki Committee; and Roma rights group Romea. 

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