American billionaire, Ronald Lauder, heir to the famous cosmetic firm Estée Lauder and main shareholder in Central European Media Enterprises (CME), launched a second arbitration procedure on Tuesday in connection with the largest Czech television station, TV Nova.
This new round of arbitration, which is set to begin in London, follows last month's court proceedings in Amsterdam. It was there that Vladimir Železný, head of TV Nova, was ordered to return USD 27.1 million to CME. This was a fraction of the original USD 470 million demanded by CME for lost earnings.
Mr Lauder is suing the Czech Republic for USD 500 million for failing to protect his investment in Česká nezávislá televizní společnost (ČNTS), the organization formerly responsible for servicing TV Nova. According to Lauder, the country violated an agreement on mutual protection of investments signed by former Czechoslovakia and the US in 1991.
Martin Chalupský, spokesman for CET 21 the company holding the broadcast license for TV Nova, offered a reaction to the proceedings. He said, "It's unprecedented to claim compensation worth USD 500 million again, after the first arbitration proceedings ruled that no damage had been incurred."
The dispute between CME and Mr Železný began when CME gave Železný USD 23 million, thus allowing him to gain a controlling share in CET 21. Two years ago, CME decided that Mr Železný was not holding to their agreement and tried to dismiss him from the post of General Director. However, he managed to outmanoeuver CME and began broadcasting alone.
Temelín to be shut down...again
On Thursday, less than two weeks after Temelín renewed operations following a month of testing, the nuclear power plant was again shut down. Temelín spokesman, Milan Nebesař, said that the plant will be closed for one week in order to adjust regulation valves located in the non-nuclear section of the reactor. It is hoped that this will reduce the excessive vibrations that were responsible for last month's lengthy shutdown.
Temelín head, František Hezoucký, said that one of the plant's four regulation valves had already been adjusted and vibrations reduced by up to 80 percent. However, Austria's main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said on Monday that the shutting down of Temelín's reactor points to unresolved problems at the plant. For this reason, Austria continues to voice safety concerns over Temelín's operation.
An end to the opposition agreement?
The fate of the opposition agreement signed on 9 July, 1998 by the chairman of the Social Democrats (ČSSD), Miloš Zeman, and the chairman of the Civic Democrats (ODS), Václav Klaus, was the topic of discussion on Friday when ten leading members of the two parties met. The meeting came after several weeks of uncertainty concerning the future of the agreement and a related "tolerance pact."
According to some members of ODS, ČSSD has not fulfilled three of the five clauses laid out in the tolerance pact, namely in the areas of pension reform, privatization and reducing bureaucracy. "We would like to hear what ČSSD intends to do about the matters that have not been dealt with," stated Petr Nečas, vice-chairman of ODS.
The Czech national daily, Lidové noviny, questioned how much pull Miloš Zeman continues to have in ČSSD and how that will affect the future of the opposition agreement. Mr Zeman, who favors the continuation of the opposition agreement up to next year's general elections, will resign as chairman next month. His successor, Vladimír Špidla, prefers that ČSSD "be without any obligations" when the country goes to the polls.
ODS members also appear divided on the issue. Vice-chairwoman, Libuše Benešová, told Lidové noviny that, "there is no pressure for an immediate annulment of the agreement." However, Mr Nečas stated that, "the opposition agreement was the result of a concrete political arrangement and this situation is no longer valid."
The opposition agreement enabled Mr Zeman to form a ČSSD minority cabinet following unsuccessful talks with the opposition Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL) and the Freedom Union (US).
Chvalovský allowed to travel
The president of the Czech Football Association, František Chvalovský, was allowed to leave the Czech Republic on Thursday to visit Switzerland. Mr Chvalovský was released on bail last week after being accused of misappropriating bank loans totalling CZK 640 million (USD 17 million).
The Czech and Moravian Football Association rejected an offer by Mr Chvalovský to step down from his position in light of his recent legal troubles. The association has decided that Mr Chvalovský can continue to serve as president of the organization during his ongoing investigation.
Rent regulation lifted
A new law approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday gives property owners the freedom to set rent prices. Previously, landlords were forced to observe rent regulations which allowed only minor increases in rent prices each year. The new law comes in response to last year's ruling by the Constitutional Court that administrative rent regulation was unconstitutional.
The system, which is similar to one used in Germany, stipulates that the State can only intervene when the landlord and tenant are unable to reach agreement. Many worry, however, that the new law will introduce massive increases in rent levels.
And the winner is...
Musíme si pomáhat (Divided We Fall), reviewed last week by CER, was feted at this year's Český lev film awards that were hosted by the Czech Film and Television Academy. The film, which was nominated for the year's "Best Foreign Language" Oscar, won five of its six nominations including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
The Czech television production Kytice was also successful at this year's ceremony, receiving three awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Score.
Mark Preskett, 9 March 2001
Mladá fronta Dnes
ČTK—Czech News Agency
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