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Vol 3, No 8
26 February 2001
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Czech newsNews from the
Czech Republic

All the important news
since 17 February 2001

Mark Preskett


Železný must pay his dues

It has not been the best of weeks for the director of Prague-based TV Nova, Vladimír Železný. On Tuesday, French courts seized the contents of Mr Železný's French villa. Michal Donath, spokesman for the American firm Central European Media Enterprises (CME), said after the seizure that "CME expect courts in other countries to order a similar seizure of Železný's assets in the near future." His
View today's updated headlines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic
prophecy proved to be correct when, on Thursday, the District Court for Prague 1, on the behest of CME, ordered the seizure of assets at Železný's Prague home.

The court verdicts followed a ruling by the International Court of Arbitration last week, which ordered Železný to pay USD 27.1 million to CME, and CME to return the 5.8 per cent share in Česká nezávislá televizní společnost (ČNTS) to Železný. CME had given Mr Železný USD 23 million allowing him to gain a controlling share in the company CET 21, which holds the license for transmitting TV Nova. 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 outmaneuver CME and began broadcasting alone.

After the seizure of his assets at his French home, Železný told press at a news conference that he "will cover the claim from the arbitration proceedings." However, he insisted that the value of the shares in ČNTS to be returned to him had to correspond to the sum he was to pay. He also said it would take him five to seven weeks to be able to raise the money. Every day he fails to stump up the cash is costing Železný USD 3500.

Michal Donath, spokesman for CME, reacted to Železný's statements by saying that Železný had misinterpreted the verdict of the arbitration court and that the contract between ČNTS and CET 21 did not specify the value of the ČNTS share which CME will return to Železný.

Mr Železný considered appealing the arbitration decision, but Dutch lawyers who represented Železný in Amsterdam discouraged him, calling the result "fantastic." CME had initiated arbitration proceedings with the view to receiving over USD 470 million in compensation for lost earnings.

Despite Železný's assurances that he would pay up, his actions on Thursday, the same day as the District Court ruling, were not the actions of a man going out of his way to comply with the court ruling. The national daily Lidové noviny reported that throughout the day men were seen loading the contents of a gallery in Prague, owned by Mr Železný, into vans, which were driven away.


Central bank lowers interest rates

The Czech National Bank (ČNB) surprised analysts and politicians on Thursday by lowering the base interest rate by a quarter of a per cent. Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman had feared that the new governor of the ČNB, Zdeněk Tůma, would in fact increase the interest rate, when he spoke of the consequences of the rising inflation rate. The rate fell from 5.25 to 5 per cent, the lowest in several years.

Reaction to the move was, on the whole, positive. "The step is proof that the ČNB is aiming for economic development," said Conseq Finance analyst Petr Zahradník. Pavel Mertlík, the minister of finance, was also optimistic. "From the viewpoint of economic growth it is a positive development." However, Radek Malý, analyst at Citibank, stated, "The effect on the economy will not be that large."


Ed Fagan rides into town

US lawyer Ed Fagan, who achieved fame for helping Holocaust survivors get compensation from Germany, has decided to represent Austrian opponents of the Temelín nuclear power plant—for free.

Mr Fagan, who flew in to the Czech Republic this week, has stated that Czech legislation does not specify sufficient compensation to potential victims in case of a nuclear accident at the plant. However, a Czech international legal expert, Vladimír Balas, told the Czech news agency, ČTK, that all nuclear power plants were insufficiently insured and Mr Fagan could attack each of them in the same way.

Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetský stated that Fagan had no chance of succeeding in court and that he only sought his own popularity. Mr Fagan's reputation, though, is such that all the national dailies heralded his arrival with front page leads.


NATO pressure mounts

In a visit to Prague this week, NATO Secretary-general George Robertson urged the Czech Republic to deepen reforms of their armed forces to allow further enlargement of the security alliance in the future. Robertson told reporters that the Czech Republic has lagged behind targets. "That is why I come here to say: Keep the reform program going," he added.

Since joining NATO two years ago, the Czech Republic has in fact brought defense spending to the promised 2.2 percent of gross domestic product. Robertson, however, also criticized the Czech government's plan to buy 24 or 36 supersonic jets, at the cost of some USD 2.5 billion.


Czech census begins

Thousands of census officials, most of them students and pensioners, began this week to distribute forms to households throughout the country. The forms will be gathered on 1 March.

The census has been criticized by many who claim that some of its questions intrude on people's basic right of privacy and the information could easily fall into the wrong hands and be used against citizens. Anyone who fails to fill out the forms will face a fine of CZK (Czech korunas) 10,000 (USD 265).

Mark Preskett, 23 February 2001

Moving on:


Hospodářské noviny
Lidové noviny
Mladá fronta Dnes
ČTK—Czech News Agency

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