Anti-corruption police have finished questioning Prague councillors in connection with what independent auditors have described as vastly overpriced contracts for OpenCard public transport cards. The case will now proceed with the questioning of witnesses which is expected to last until mid-September. The police suspect ten present and former councillors from TOP 09 and the Civic Democratic Party of abuse of office and violating public procurement rules. Charges could be levelled within a matter of weeks. Prague mayor Tomáš Hudeček has already stated that should charges be brought against him he would resign immediately. Half of the city council might have to do likewise.
The Czech Republic may once again start topping up the pensions of Czechs who worked for Slovak firms prior to the split of Czechoslovakia and now have lower pensions. The Czech Republic started topping-up the pensions of approximately 10,000 citizens who fall into this category in 2008 but then stopped the practice in 2011 in reaction to an EU Court of Justice verdict which said it was discriminatory to people in other EU member states. The Czech Constitutional Court has since ruled that the EU court failed to take into account the specific conditions relating to the Czechoslovak divorce in 1993. An amendment to the law which would restore the practice of topping up pensions was approved by the Senate on Thursday and has yet to be signed by the president.
Trade unions have welcomed their leader Jaroslav Zavadil’s decision to run on the Social Democratic Party’s ticket in the upcoming general election. Zavadil resigned as trade union leader after accepting the Social Democrats offer for him to head the party’s Prague candidates’ list. The umbrella trade union organization Zavadil headed says he will be better able to represent their interests in high politics. Mr. Zavadil has refused to speculate on his chances in the Czech capital, which is generally known to be right-oriented. He said he would focus his campaign on seniors, families with children and the socially weaker groups of the population.
The police want to charge the head of the Energy Regulatory Office, Alena Vitásková, and nine other people, with fraud in obtaining licenses for two solar power plants in north Bohemia in 2010 in view of upping the purchase price for solar power. The damage to the state is estimated at 1.9 billion crowns. Ms. Vitásková had previously accused her predecessors of having illegally upped the prices of electricity from solar power, producing an audit that the head of the Czech Photovoltaic Industry Association said was doctored and was intended to cover up her own illegal activities.
Czech Railways have confirmed that they have begun negotiations with the two biggest private train operators to unify their ticketing systems. Currently, private operators RegioJet and LEO Express sell separate tickets for their train service, which has creates problems for customers travelling with Czech Railways and private operators. Czech Railways had previously refused to negotiate with their bigger competitors and had only made agreements with smaller regional operators. The company’s new director Dalibor Zelený said that they are interested in coming to an agreement with the private operators in order to simplify ticket purchasing.
A scheduled meeting of the Višegrad Group – a loose economic alliance of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland – has been cancelled due to the political crisis in this country, the Office of the Government reported on Thursday. The meeting was scheduled for this Saturday and although Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok was prepared to meet his obligations, the meeting was cancelled at Hungary’s suggestion. The meeting, at which the four countries were to debate bilateral ties and coordinate their stands on important EU matters, has been postponed indefinitely.
Police in the towns of Plzen, České Budějovice, Duchcov, Jičín and Ostrava are gearing up for anti-Romany marches organized by ultra right groups and movements. The marches planned for Saturday are proclaimed to be against abuse of the welfare system and black racism. Police will be out in force to maintain law and order with reinforcements stationed around Romany-inhabited areas. The country’s intelligence service recently warned of the danger of growing anti-Romany sentiments among the white majority population.
Czech President Miloš Zeman will formally dissolve the lower house of Parliament on August 28, according to the internet news site Parlamentní listy. The Chamber of Deputies supported a motion to disband on Tuesday this week in the wake of a drawn-out political crisis. The president must now call an early election within 60 days. He is expected to call the vote for Oct. 25 and 26, a term that he pre-announced some time ago as highly likely. The election date will be announced at a news conference on Friday.
The country’s biggest bank, Česká Spořitelna has reported problems with its internet banking service which reportedly affected thousands of clients who use the mobile operator T-mobile. The service was reportedly disrupted between Wednesday mid-day and late Thursday morning. It is now fully functional but according to the bank’s spokesperson an increased number of banking orders in the wake of the fall-out may cause a slight delay in the processing of requests.
The chairman of the Communist Party, Vojtěch Filip, has said that in the event of a strong left-wing showing in the early general elections his party would push for a referendum on the law on restitution of church property. The law on church restitutions was passed last year by the former centre-right coalition and has been unsuccessfully challenged in court by Social Democratic senators. The Social Democrats, who are also dissatisfied with the scope of the restitution, say they would prefer to reach an amicable agreement with church representatives.
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