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Vol 3, No 5
5 February 2001
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Czech newsNews from the
Czech Republic

All the important news
since 27 January 2001

Mark Preskett


View today's updated headlines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic

Castro keeps diplomats waiting

Former finance minister and MP Ivan Pilip and former student dissident Jan Bubeník, both being held in a Cuban jail in Havana, were offered a glimmer of hope this week, when the chairman of the Senate, Petr Pithart, flew to Havana on a personal invitation from Cuban President Fidel Castro. The two Czechs, accused of spying for the US, were arrested last month.

"At this moment, I expect that our dialogue will lead to the release of both prisoners," said Mr Pithart to journalists from the BBC. Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Hynek Kmoníček was also optimistic. "But one thing is certain. The Czech Republic will not apologise to Cuba," he said.

However, by Friday, the last day of Petr Pithart's scheduled stay in Cuba, no meeting had taken place. The Chairman of the Senate was due to fly back to the Czech Republic late Friday evening but the late arrival of his flight bought him some more time.

With time running out, Petr Pithart remained upbeat. "I disagree that there will be no meeting. I have a letter signed personally by Fidel Castro and believe a meeting will take place," Mr Pithart told the BBC on Thursday. According to Hynek Kmoníček, one of the reasons why the Cuban side had difficulty finding free time was because of a globalisation forum that was taking place in the country that Castro had to attend.

Having analysed information provided by the Cubans, Czech diplomats have now classed the "crime" of both Czechs under a more moderate law, and say the two can expect between three and eight years of imprisonment. Upon arrest they faced a 20-year sentence.


An end to the turmoil?

A list of seven candidates for the post of temporary director of Czech Television (ČT) was released on Monday. It is hoped that filling the post, which was vacated with the resignation of Jiří Hodač, should go some way to ending the crisis surrounding ČT, which has dragged on for over a month.

Among the candidates are Věra Valterová, authorized by Mr Hodač to manage Czech Television in his place, and Jana Bobošíková, head of the News and Current Affairs Department and one of the two people named by the rebel staff still holed up at Kavčí hory as having to be dismissed before they end their strike.

Reaction to the fact that Mrs Bobošíková, whose name was put forward by Civic Democrats (ODS) deputy Kateřina Dostálová, figures on the list of candidates was understandably mixed.

"Nothing that she said or did was respected, and everything that she tried to implement was ignored," said Mrs Dostálová in support of her nominee, referring to Bobošíková's short and difficult time as head of the News and Current Affairs Department.

The strikers, who have opposed Bobošíková from the moment she was appointed, were less than enthusiastic about her nomination. "It is a matter for the Chamber of Deputies. If Mrs Bobošíková is appointed, we can look forward to more demonstrations," said Adam Komers, spokesman for the ČT striking staff.

Later in the week, former director of Premier Television, Jiří Mejstřík, proposed by the Communist Party Deputy Karel Vymětal, withdrew his name from the list of candidates.

The Chamber of Deputies is set to debate the matter on 9 February, with a secret two-round vote to follow. The temporary general director will take control of the TV station until a new ČT council is elected, which is expected to be in a few months.


IPB—the plot thickens...

Details surrounding the abrupt sale of the bankrupt Investiční a poštovní banka (IPB) to the Československá obchodní banka (ČSOB) will remain shrouded in mystery. On Wednesday, the government refused to disclose the resolutions concerning the state guarantees provided to ČSOB before it bought IPB, which had been placed under forced administration last year.

"I didn't manage to succeed in convincing the government that now was the right time," said Minister of Finance Pavel Mertlík. Most other ministers are of the opinion that it is necessary to wait until the whole process of "integration" of the two banks is complete.

The state guarantees for IPB's bad debts are reaching astronomical proportions. According to early estimates the amount is CZK 180 billion, which means that the state must foot the bill for between CZK 50 and CZK 100 billion. Though ultimately, the money must come from taxpayers' pockets.

This came on the heels of news that the first arrests have been made in relation to IPB's crippling debts. The bank's former deputy director, Libor Procházka, together with six other former employees, faces a sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.

Mr Procházka is accused of credit fraud relating to the purchase of shares of the largest Czech brewery, Plzeňský Prazdroj, and their subsequent transfer to another company, České pivo, owned by the Japanese investment group Nomura. The brewery was later sold, together with another large Czech brewer, Radegast, to South African Breweries (SAB). Although IPB financed the purchase of the shares, none of the money was ever returned.


Šrejber released on bail

Milan Šrejber, the former tennis star and businessman, sentenced to five and a half years in prison two weeks ago, was released from the Pankrác prison in Prague on Friday. The High Court decided that he could await his appeal hearing in the comfort of his own home.

He is accused of illegally transferring over CZK 13 million from funds held in his investment firm, Šrejbr Tennis Investing, to his own private firm. Bail of CZK 5 million was paid to secure his release.


Kajínek awaits a retrial

Jiří Kajínek is almost certain to have his case placed before the court again, nearly two years after he was convicted of murdering businessman Štefan Janda and his bodyguard, Julián Pokoš. Minister of Justice Pavel Rychetský admitted that he did not like the methods employed during Mr Kajínek's trial.

Jiří Kajínek made headlines last year when he escaped from the Mírov prison and remained on the loose as a fugitive for over a month in Prague. Although police eventually caught him, his escape focused attention back on the two murders, which Mr Kajínek has said from the outset he did not commit.

Mark Preskett, 2 February 2001

Moving on:


Lidové noviny
Mladá fronta Dnes
ČTK—Czech News Agency
BBC World Service

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