Prime Minister Petr Nečas has indicated that Culture Minister Jiří Besser will likely be asked to resign when he returns from the Vatican on Wednesday. On Tuesday Prime Minister Nečas said he had a clear opinion on the continuation of Mr Besser in his cabinet, but would share it with him, rather than the media, first. The TOP 09 party is reportedly already discussing who to name for the position of culture minister. On Monday, Mr Besser apologised for having failed to include property and business ownership in the US in his property statement, but said he was innocent of any corruption. He said that if anyone could produce incriminating evidence, he would resign upon completion of negotiations with the Vatican.
Mr Besser’s former business partner, Pavel Hrách, told the Czech press on Tuesday that the minister’s involvement in their U.S.-based firm was intended to help Mr Hrách secure property in Florida. Pavel Hrách, a long-time friend of Mr Besser’s, says that the Culture Minister’s participation in the Comoros Group was as a guarantee so that he could purchase the 230,000 dollar house in Florida, which Mr Besser later failed to include in his property statement. He also said that Mr Besser visited the residence “once or twice a year”. Those oversights have put Mr Besser in the centre of corruption allegations since they were discovered last week. Senior members of Mr Besser’s party, TOP 09, said they were content that the culture minister had not intentionally committed any wrongdoing, but were more perturbed by his business association with Mr Hrách, who was recently convicted of corruption. Mr Besser said he had not been aware of Hrách’s corrupt activities. However, it later emerged that Mr Hrách had also been convicted of a similar offence in 2003.
Public tenders worth two billion crowns were apparently manipulated by a hacked computer programme used to draw the winners. Police told TV Nova that software intended to select construction companies at random had been rigged to give particular outcomes, potentially influencing all types of public projects in more than three dozen communities. All evidence was automatically deleted from the laptop computers running the draws. Roughly half of the cases involve money from EU funds. Police have yet to charge anyone in the matter, though Nova reports that three companies in particular are under suspicion.
The Chamber of Deputies has overridden a presidential veto to introduce criminal liability for companies. The bill was passed with 120 votes. President Klaus vetoed the bill last month - in spite of its being a key part of the government’s anti-corruption legislation – on the grounds that it ignored the link between crimes and their perpetrators, and was merely part of a trend towards criminalizing corporations. The Czech Republic was the only EU member state without such legislation.
The new council at Prague’s City Hall has approved a number of personnel changes in the management of city-run institutions. The supervisory board of the Municipal House will see eight of its members, including its chairman, replaced. The councillors selected new members, who are set to begin on Wednesday. Two Prague district mayors and a deputy mayor, all Civic Democrats, as well as several others, were also dismissed from the supervisory board of city’s water management authority. The supervisory body of the Prague transit authority was changed out last week, resulting in the resignation of the company’s director. Coming weeks are also expected to see personal changes in the municipal waste management company.
Former chairman of the Anticorruption Endowment and intelligence director Karel Randák claims that an organised group is funnelling money out of Prague’s transit authority, DPP. Mr Randák told a press conference Tuesday that the company’s funds are going missing from deliveries of spare parts, fuel and ticket production. He said that the company Cokeville Asset was involved in at least two such cases and urged Prague’s City Hall to press charges; otherwise, he said, the endowment would do so. On Monday the Prague Public Transport Company cancelled a contract for passenger tickets that the contracted company itself admitted was wildly overpriced.
Around a fifth of the Czech Republic’s teachers, some 20,000 people, will be participating in Wednesday’s hour-long strike, unions report. As many as 1,600 schools will remain closed until 9 a.m. on Wednesday, when the government is set to discuss changes to teachers’ salary tables. Another thousand schools will open on time but will not hold class for one hour. Most of the striking schools are in north-eastern and South Moravia, with considerably less participation in Prague. The unions are protesting a proposal to leave teachers’ salaries to the discretion of headmasters rather than their length of service. The proposal would affect primarily older teachers, who statistics show make up more than half of the teaching force. In theory, many teachers could lose 4,600 crowns off their pay, the unions have said.
Social Democrat deputy chairman Jeroným Tejc has been elected to head the party’s parliamentary club, replacing party chairman Bohuslav Sobotka. Mr Sobotka recently left the position in order to concentrate on his primary post and on next year’s district and Senate elections. Mr Tejc, who was the only candidate for the senior party post, received 48 of 51 votes, according to the daily Právo.
The artist known as Roman Týc has been sentenced to one month in prison for failing to pay a fine imposed for one of his stunts. The best known of the Ztohoven guerrilla art collective, Týc was fined 60,000 crowns in 2007 for replacing the red and green figures on dozens of pedestrian crossings with various ridiculous images – legless or hanged men for example. The judge admitted that the public had appreciated the act, but said the city had incurred damages of 82.000 crowns. The artist publically refused to pay the fine, explaining that he had set the figures on signal lights free. Ztohoven and Týč have been on court on numerous occasions before, most notably after hacking into a live weather programme on Czech Television and broadcasting an atomic explosion.
Charges of attempted fraud and bribery have been brought in connection with a Czech military order for Tatra lorries. The Ostrava state prosecutor’s office told the Czech Press Agency CTK on Tuesday that they suspect that one person demanded five million dollars from a senior manager of the Tatra company under the false pretext that he would use his influence to eliminate business troubles connected to the order. The names of the persons charged cannot be divulged, however the media has widely speculated that they include former defence minister Martin Bartak and his acquaintance, armament company owner Michal Smrz.
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