Influential businessman Ivo Rittig is being questioned by the police on suspicion of involvement in large-scale corruption, manipulation of public tenders and money-laundering. Rittig, who resides in Monaco, is believed to be one of the Prague “godfathers” who controlled the Prague branch of the Civic Democrats when the party ruled Prague City Hall. No charges have as yet been brought against him. Two other powerful lobbyists implicated in the case are Roman Janoušek and Tomáš Hrdlička.
The Czech Republic have been pitted against the Netherlands for the opening round of the 2014 Davis Cup. The games will be played out in the Czech Republic between January 31 and February 2. The Czechs, who are the reining Davis Cup champions, were the top seeds in the draw, for the first time in history. This season, the Czech team has again reached the finals after they beat Argentina in Prague last weekend. In the finals, the Czechs will face Serbia in Belgrade in November.
The EU’s new tobacco laws could put hundreds of Czech jobs at risk, President Miloš Zeman told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, the first day of his visit to EU headquarters. After a meeting with the speaker of the European Parliament, the Czech president expressed hope that during debates on the new rules, MEPs would take into consideration the interest of 1,500 employees of cigarette producer Philip Morris’s Czech plant. The planned EU directive on tobacco products includes a ban on some types of cigarettes such as slims and menthols, and would force producers to place bigger pictorial health warnings on packets.
A cyclist covered a ten-kilometre-long distance in Prague faster than a car and a tram in a test race designed to find the quickest way of moving around the capital, the news website idnes.cz reported. The race, organized by the NGO Auto*Mat, took place between Prague’s Modřany district and the National Theatre in the centre of the city on Wednesday morning. The cyclist arrived first in just over 20 minutes, followed by the car which arrived five minutes later. The tram traveller came in last, some 13 minutes behind the winner.
In related news, the Social Democrats have dismissed a request by the owners of the unprofitable Paskov mine in north Moravia for government assistance to postpone its closure. Deputy chair of the Social Democrat party, Lubomír Zaorálek, told reporters on Wednesday the demand was outrageous. The Social Democrats are expected to win the upcoming general election and form the country’s next government.
The Czech Republic’s state agencies CzechTrade and CzechInvest are opening new trade missions in Buenos Aires, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Casablanca and Beijing in the coming days, a spokesman for the Ministry of Industry and Trade said. Before the end of the year, new missions will also open in Turkey, India and Indonesia. In 2014, some five or six trade missions will be established in Africa and Asia. The ministry plans to spend around 200 million crowns on Czech trade missions abroad whose number should increase to between 60 and 70, the spokesman said. The ministry eventually plans to merge the two agencies into one body to support Czech foreign trade and attract investors to the Czech Republic.
The manager of Czech Republic’s under-19 football team, Miroslav Koubek, has been appointed the new manager of the top division club Slavia Prague, the club’s spokeswoman said. The 62-year-old coach replaces Michal Petrouš who resigned following a string of disappointing results. Mr Koubek, who will remain the manager of the under-19 national team, has coached top division clubs Kladno, Plzeň, Ostrava and Mladá Boleslav.
The Czech government on Wednesday approved a plan to increase funds for state-covered health insurance, PM Jiří Rusnok said. The cabinet plants to increase payments for children, retired people and other groups whose health care insurance is covered by the state from the current 723 crowns a month to 773 crowns. That would mean an extra 4.7 billion crowns for the system. Health Minister Martin Holcát had earlier proposed an increase by 7.2 billion. At a time when the lower house of Parliament is dissolved, the caretaker cabinet is planning to ask the Senate to approve the respective legislation.
The police are investigating the financing of the controversial Blanka tunnel project in Prague, the Czech News Agency reported on Tuesday. Detectives from the force’s organised crime unit suspect breach of competition rules and breach of trust in connection with the enormous construction project, which to date has cost the city CZK 27 billion. The investigation is centred on a City Hall decree from last year approving a mechanism aimed at settling large debts owed to construction firms. The tunnel, which some environmentalists have criticised, is due to open next year.
Prague’s traditional municipal New Year’s fireworks show will this year be launched from the city’s Letná Park rather than from the previous location on the River Vltava, under a plan approved by councilors on Tuesday. Following a discussion on when exactly the New Year’s Day event should be held, the time of 18:01 won in a public vote. Letting off the fireworks from a pontoon between Střelecký Ostrov island and Charles Bridge have led in the past to traffic disruptions.
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