The police have arrested Pavel Čaniga, the executive director of the liquor company Likérka Drak, and are still searching for the head of Drak’s distribution company Verdana, Robert Sedlařík. The two men are suspected of endangering public health with harmful products, after 7,600 bottles of rum containing 50% methanol were discovered in a storage facility belonging to Verdana at the end of last week. According to the police, the bottles were ready for distribution to stores, which could have caused a considerable number of deaths. Both Mr Čaniga and Mr Sedlařík denied any knowledge of the dangerously mixed liquor, but failed to produce documentation for more than 56 thousand liters of alcohol found in the Verdana warehouse. Mr Čaniga is currently being questioned by the police, but no charges have been brought against him so far.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas has said that the government is ready to block the establishment of the single EU banking supervising agency unless the disputed proposals that could threaten the Czech financial system are resolved. Mr Nečas made the announcement at a press conference on Wednesday, saying that given the fact that 95 percent of the Czech banking market is controlled by foreign banking groups, the government has to be careful with regard to EU-wide regulations. The banking supervising system is deemed to be one of the building blocks of the new banking union that EU legislators in Brussels are currently working on. According to the Czech prime minister, the current proposals of the supervising agency and the banking union are not satisfactory, and the Czech Republic would veto them if they were put to a vote today.
The Czech Office for the Protection of Competition (ÚOHS) has issued the telecommunications giant Telefónica Czech Republic a 93.1 million crown fine for breaking fair competition rules and taking advantage of the dominant position of the then Czech Telecom to impose unfair rules for telephone services to business clients in 2001 and 2002. ÚOHS chairman Petr Rafaj said that the terms of the contracts provided to entrepreneurs not only threatened the growth of competition on the market, but also discriminated against this group of clients. The regulating body’s decision has not yet come into effect, and Telefónica is planning to appeal.
The Prague 1 District Court on Wednesday acquitted eight defendants on charges of promoting and organizing neo-Nazi events. The State Attorney immediately appealed the verdict and the case will now be tried in the Prague City Court. Seven men and one woman allegedly promoted the activities of the neo-Nazi group National Resistance and organized events such as marches and white power music concerts in Prague, Jihlava and in the Central Bohemian region. At least four of the defendants are former members of the banned far-right Workers’ Party.
A Prague court of appeals on Wednesday upheld the guilty verdict for the controversial fugitive businessman and founder of the fraudulent Harvard Funds, Viktor Kožený, and his associate Boris Vostrý. The 10-year prison sentence handed to Mr Kožený in absentia two years ago was upheld, while Mr Vostrý’s was lowered to nine years. The two men were found guilty of committing fraudulent practices that cost the fund’s investors 10 billion crowns. Mr Kožený founded the Harvard Funds in the early 1990’s and gained most of his capital thanks to the government’s so-called coupon privatization. He is an Irish citizen and is currently residing in the Bahamas, which have so far refused all requests for his extradition.
A 37-year-old former firefighter, who for more than six months lived with two artificial pumps instead of a heart, died on Saturday while awaiting a suitable donor, the daily Blesk reported on Wednesday. The man, who had a large tumor on his heart, underwent the operation on April 3; doctors at Prague’s IKEM institute removed his heart and replaced it with two pumps. The father-of-one became the first patient in the world to live without a palpable pulse. The head of IKEM’s cardio centre, Jan Pirk, said the cause of the man’s death is yet to be established but noted the pumps worked without problems.
The Czech government approved a draft amendment on Wednesday that brings Czech regulations on asylum in line with the single EU asylum system. This will give foreigners who are recognized as refugees, or were granted additional protection, in the Czech Republic the ability to travel within the European Union after a certain period of residency in the country. The bill should improve the rights and the integration process for refugees and persons with additional international protection. The amendment could come into effect starting in 2014, once it is approved by the parliament and signed by the president.
After years of appeals, Dagmar Havlová, the sister-in-law of the late former Czech president Václav Havel, received a court ruling on Wednesday that confirmed her ownership rights to the whole of the Lucerna Palace, located on Prague’s central Vodičková street. The wife of Václav Havel’s brother Ivan received ownership rights to one half of the building as a gift from her husband in the early 1990’s and was looking to buy the other half ever since. The former president, though, sold his half of the building to a company Chemapol Realty in 1997. The company sold it two years later to Ms Havlová before it filed for bankruptcy, for a sum that was 55 thousand crowns lower than what it had paid for the palace to Mr Havel. The bankruptcy administrator filed a complaint against the sale claiming that the reduction in price was unsubstantiated and that the company sold the real estate during bankruptcy proceedings when it could make these kinds of decisions independently. The Wednesday decision of the Prague High Appeals Court upheld the April verdict of the City Court that determined that Chemapol Reality sold its half of the Lucerna Palace for the market price and that the sale was not part of the bankruptcy proceedings.
The Education Committee of the Czech Senate issued a recommendation today for the Upper House to pass without changes an amendment that would change the format of the state high-school leaving exams. The amendment proposes to leave only one basic version of the test, and would limit the number of required subject test to two – Czech language and a foreign language or mathematics. Education Minister Petr Fiala assured the committee that the proposed changes would only be temporary and that more systematic changes to the exam system will be introduced within two years. The current changes are a reaction to the intense criticism of the trail run of the exams from last year. The Senate should discuss the amendment next week.
The European Commission is planning to cut 12.5 billion crowns in subsidies for two Czech operational programmes, a spokeswoman for the commission said on Tuesday, quoting serious problems with the administration and supervision of the funds as the reason. The planned move will affect the Transportation and Environment programmes which will have to be covered by the state budget; Czech authorities might be however able to use the funds to finance other projects next year. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said he had been worried the losses would be even bigger. However, the European Commission is yet to decide whether it will also slash funding for another two Czech operational programmes.