A second high-profile Czech businessman returned from aboard this week to face criminal charges. Jiri Syrovatka, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for his alleged role in a tax fraud case, had been in the United States on holiday. A co-defendant in the case, businessman Tomas Pitr, had returned home to the Czech Republic from neighbouring Austria on Thursday. Both men have filed appeals but were considered high risks for flight. Had Syrovatka not returned to the country by this Monday, police would have issued an international arrest warrant.
A Czech delegation left for South Korea on Monday for talks with representatives of the carmaker Hyundai, which is considering investing some 1.2 billion dollars into a new plant in Ostrava. In hopes of finalising a deal, apart from other incentives and tax breaks, the Czech delegation will present the government's plan to improve regional infrastructure and widen a highway reaching the border with Slovakia, where Hyundai has a subsidiary. The carmaker has said it will make a final decision this month.
The Minister of Labour, Zdenek Skromach, has denied reports in the tabloid media that Czech Airlines (CSA) in any way paid for or subsidised his family holiday in New York over New Year's. Skromach and his family did stay in discount hotel used by the national carrier flight staff. But the labour minister said he had only used Czech Airlines to reserve the rooms and produced receipts to prove that he had paid for the hotel himself. The airline also denied having in any way funded the minister's orivate New York trip.
A former Czech army doctor imprisoned for killing the Nigerian consul in Prague in 2003 will not serve out his sentence. Prague court officials decided on Monday to release Jiri Pasovsky, aged 74, due to his poor health. Pasovsky shot dead the Nigerian consul and wounded another embassy employee, whom he blamed for not helping him after Pasovsky fell victim to a financial scam. He received an eight-year jail sentence in June last year, which was reduced to five years on appeal. Pasovsky's lawyer said he is suffering from cancer and other illnesses.
In related news, the Czech state agency for attracting investment, CzechInvest, said on Monday that it had helped secure 154 foreign and local investment projects worth 3.1 billion dollars last year - a record number of projects. CzechInvest head Tomas Hruda said the new projects would help create some 22,000 new jobs.
The head of the Czech Chamber of Pharmacists, Lubomir Chudoba, has said that the planned strike of pharmacists is becoming inevitable because of the attitude of the health ministry. Mr Chudoba said that the outcome of a meeting of pharmacists and Health Minister David Rath on Monday will decide whether pharmacies will close their doors on Wednesday or not. Czech pharmacists disagree with the ministry's recent decision to cut their profit margins by three percent in order to reduce medicine costs. Meanwhile, Health Minister David Rath says he is considering a further reduction of the profit margin, which now stands at 29 percent.
The former chairman of the opposition Communist Party, Miroslav Grebenicek, is going to lead the Communists' candidate list in South Moravia in June's parliamentary elections. Mr Grebenicek will compete in his constituency with Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the ruling Social Democrats, Environment Minister Libor Ambrozek of the coalition Christian Democrats and Vaclav Mencl, an MP for the opposition Civic Democrats. Mr Grebenicek, who is seen as a hardliner, stepped down last autumn after 12 years of being party leader. The Communists are the third strongest party according to public opinion polls. They occupy one fifth of the seats in the lower house.
Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has said he supports Health Minister David Rath's information campaign in the form of paid newspaper advertisements. Mr Paroubek called it the only way to put right facts concerning the activity of the healthcare sector. Advertisements featuring Minister Rath's portrait have appeared in Czech papers this week promising to ensure more healthcare and medicines for Czechs in 2006. The ministry claims in the advertisement that it motivates physicians to prescribe cheaper generic drugs in higher quantity. The chairman of the coalition Christian Democrats, Miroslav Kalousek has called the advertisements unethical.
The deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said that he is not considering any significant reduction in the overall tax burden in the coming four to five years. Mr Sobotka said, however, that he plans to restructure the taxes. Speaking in a televised debate on Sunday, Minister Sobotka said that the overall tax rate should stabilise around 37 percent in the coming years.
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