Two high ranking civil servants, arrested as suspects, during Monday’s
police raid at the Ministry of Labour and Social affairs have been released
from custody, but charges against them remain, Czech Television reports.
Deputy Minister Jan Baláč and the head of the ministry’s cybersecurity department Karel Macek are both suspected of manipulating public tenders and have been suspended.
Monday’s police raid saw the police gather evidence at the ministry for a case concerned with a contract for new information systems at the labour ministry worth some CZK 250 million, according to news site Lidovky.cz. Both men could face up to 12 years in jail if found guilty.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis says he will demand an explanation on the circumstances that led to the raid from Labour Minister Jana Maláčová.
Czech hospitals will need to establish a four month supply of facemasks in
light of the threat from the coronavirus known as COVID-19, Prime Minister
Andrej Babiš said on Wednesday.
The Czech prime minister reiterated that the country has no confirmed cases of the virus yet and said the state was prepared to handle the side effects if quarantine was instituted in any Czech city. He went on to say that a military hospital in Tichonín can be converted into a specialised hospital to handle COVID-19 patients within 12 hours if the situation demanded it and that the government has concrete plans on how to proceed in case of an outbreak and that these will be further discussed at Monday’s State Security Council meeting.
COVID-19 cases have been detected in neighbouring Austria and Germany. Three Czechs are currently in quarantine after returning from foreign destinations where COVID-19 was detected.
A group of European MEPs has arrived in the Czech Republic with the mission
to investigate the facts surrounding Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’
alleged conflict of interest and find out how Czech authorities deal with
money from EU funds.
The delegation, led by the European Parliament’s Chair of the Committee on Budgetary Control Monika Hohlmeier, will be meeting with representatives from relevant Czech ministries as well as the head of the Supreme Audit Office until Friday. The MEPs earlier request to meet with Mr Babiš himself was declined by the Czech prime minister, who said it would not correspond to the professional nature of the delegation's visit.
Mr Babiš was found to still be in indirect control over his former business empire Agrofert through trust funds by an audit conducted on behalf of the European Commission last year.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček says all constitutional
officials should agree on the country’s official stance towards a January
letter from the Chinese Embassy which warned Prague China could harm Czech
business interests if a planned Senate trip to Taiwan went ahead.
After meeting with Senate Chair Miloš Vystrčil on Wednesday, Mr Petříček said that he will prepare a draft statement which will then be discussed with other constitutional officials in March. Thus far, some officials have condemned the letter, while others have chosen not to comment.
China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunified with the mainland one day and therefore protested vehemently in the letter to what it saw as an “extremely inappropriate” trip that “carries the signs of an official visit”.
The group Million Moments for Democracy launched a new series of events
dubbed Relay for Democracy on Tuesday. The first one, comprising a public
discussion and protest gathering, took place in the West Bohemian city of
Plzeň and will be followed by further gatherings in other regional centres
every week, the organisers said. The series will conclude in Prague at the
start of June.
Million Moments for Democracy was initially set up to protest against Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who its founders say is in conflict of interest. It has twice held demonstrations in Prague drawing an estimated quarter of a million people or more.
The State Security Council has recommended that Czech citizens not visit
the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto because of an outbreak of
Covid-19. People should also weigh up going anywhere abroad at the present
time in view of the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said
after a meeting of the council on Tuesday evening. Its members did not
consider curtailing large arts or sports events in the Czech Republic.
The prime minister said any Czechs who returned from abroad and started feeling symptoms consistent with those caused by Covid-19 should immediately contact a doctor, ideally by telephone.
The minister of foreign affairs, Tomáš Petříček, called on Czechs planning to travel to other countries to register with his government department through a voluntary system on its website.
Around 20 people in the South Bohemian Region have been ordered to stay in
quarantine at home for a two-week period in connection with fears over the
Covid-19 virus, Czech Television reported on Tuesday. Similar restrictions
were placed on one person in South Moravia. All of those placed in
quarantine have returned from a region of Italy where cases of the
coronavirus have been recorded.
Eleven Czechs who came back from Iran, where people have also died of Covid-19, were taken to Prague’s Na Bulovce hospital on Tuesday morning.
The State Security Council is meeting to discuss the situation surrounding the disease on Tuesday evening.
Six Czechs who arrived from Iran at Prague Airport on Tuesday were taken
for preventative tests to the city’s Na Bulovce hospital. The measure was
taken in view of the fact that there has been a Covid-19 outbreak in the
country. None of the Czechs had any signs of the disease, officials said.
Airport staff in Prague expected the six and immediately accompanied them from their plane to a medical centre on the premises.
The head of the Czech Army says that years of neglect and cost-cutting have
reduced it to a skeleton that needs to be built up again, Novinky.cz
reported. Speaking at an army command assembly on Tuesday, the chief of the
General Staff, Aleš Opata, called for acceleration in the modernisation of
the force’s heavy equipment.
General Opata said using Russian technology was not the way to go for the Czech Army, which was being left behind by its allies. Potential adversaries are a generation ahead of the Czechs, he added.
The chief of the General Staff said soldiers were expecting political leaders to make good on their promise to reach NATO military spending targets by 2024. Government leaders recently raised doubts over whether this would be achieved.
The minister of labour and social affairs, Jana Maláčová, says she has
no intention of resigning over a police raid at her government department
on Monday. Two people were charged following the intervention, reportedly
including Minister Maláčová’s deputy for the economics and IT. The
pair have been suspended in connection with the arrests, which are linked
to an IT contract.
President Miloš Zeman described the situation as a mess while the prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said it was a major problem and that he would demand an explanation from the Social Democrat minister.
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