An auditor's investigation into claims of bribery and kickbacks at the German carmaker Volkswagen Group has detailed more than $1 million in company money that two former executives spent on luxury trips and parties. AP reports that an audit by KPMG International says Helmuth Schuster, a board member of Volkswagen's Czech subsidiary Skoda, and a high-ranking member of the personnel department, took luxury trips, hosted private parties and used VW money to pay for it, the automaker said. Volkswagen called in prosecutors earlier this year to clear up allegations that former managers set up fake companies in the Czech Republic and India, to defraud local authorities seeking business with the carmaker.
Meanwhile, far-right extremist briefly protested outside the French Embassy on Saturday, defying a ban on the rally by Prague authorities, AP reports. The National Party said it had planned the "protest against black violence" and what it called "racial terror in France." Prague's City Hall this week banned the demonstration, saying its aim would be to incite racial hatred as its organizers had voiced opposition to violence "committed by immigrants of non-French origin, mainly from Africa" when announcing the event. Roughly a dozen party members gathered in defiance of the ban, and briefly displayed banners that read "Islam in Europe leads to terrorism in the streets" and "Black racism" before they left. Party leader Jan Skacel said they were opposed to immigration because immigrants were unable to assimilate and their foreign cultures were a source of conflicts. France has been plagued by two weeks of unrest mainly in poor suburbs, marked by nightly car torchings and clashes between gangs of youths and police.
Four prisoners from a low-security in prison in Odolov, East Bohemia, escaped while on an outing Saturday evening. Two of the prisoners have already turned themselves in. Prison director Jiri Benes said that the other two still at large were serving time for economic crimes and were not considered dangerous. The incident comes less than a week after two convicted murderers escaped from a high-security prison in Plzen, West Bohemia. One remains at large; the other was apprehended in Germany on Friday.
Police shut down a neo-Nazi concert in the northern Bohemian town of Zlata Olesnice on Saturday due to the band's used of racist lyrics. Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan said that twelve people had been detained and that several face charges. The gathering had been booked as a private birthday party. When called to the scene, police found the organisers were charging a cover charge at the door and a skinhead band was performing. Police seized tee-shirts, badges, baseball caps, and electronic media with extremist slogans or content.
Doing business in the Czech Republic poses few risks for the foreign investor, but corruption and bureaucracy remain problematic, the British analytical firm Control Risks says in its annual flagship publication RiskMap 2006. The report predicts that the main opposition Civic Democrats will win the June 2006 parliamentary elections but will fail to secure a majority in the 200-member lower house. RiskMap therefore expects the ruling Social Democrats to remain in power as part of a coalition. Whatever the outcome of the elections, the Control Risks firm expects no major reforms before June and a stable economic and business climate.
A major Czech brewery has offered 160 litres of beer, the average yearly consumption of each citizen, to each member of the Czech football squad irrespective of whether the team beat Norway to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, AFP reports. The Czechs beat Norway 1-0 away in the first leg of their qualifying play-off on Saturday. The Czech players will only be able to take up the offer of free beer after the second match against Norway this Wednesday. The Czech Republic has never qualified for the World Cup, but the former Czechoslovakia reached the finals in 1934 (losing to Italy) and 1962 (beaten by Brazil) and the quarter-finals in 1990.
In other political news, the Christian Democrats, a junior coalition party, have approved their final list of regional election leaders in the 2006 contest. Among the most high-profile candidates are the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cyril Svoboda, who will lead the party ticket in the region of Prague, and political independent Jaromir Drabek, the chairman of the Economic Chamber, who will lead the contest in Liberec. Miroslav Kalousek, who was re-elected party leader on Saturday, will head the list of candidates in South Bohemia and first deputy chairman Jan Kasal will lead the contest in Vysocina.
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek, on an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, said his country was looking to play a more active role in the Balkans. He also promised Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic help from Czech experts in that country's eventual bid for membership in the European Union. Mr Paroubek said that a Prague seminar on investment possibilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina would be held in the coming months.
A replica of England's famous Elizabethan-era Globe theatre burnt to the ground on Saturday. The round wooden structure, a faithful duplicate of the theatre where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed, was built on the Holesovice fairgrounds of Prague in 1999. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
Outgoing Agriculture Minister Petr Zgarba has withdrawn his name for consideration as a regional election leader for the ruling Social Democratic party. He was recently nominated to lead the party ticket in Vysocina region despite allegations of corruption at a state body under his control. The board of the Czech Land Fund, of which Zgarba was chairman, was dismissed last week under suspicion of having passed on inside information to land speculators. Mr Zgarba denies any wrongdoing, but will is to step down as Agriculture Minister this Wednesday for failing to prevent questionable property deals from going through during his tenure. Mr Zgarba will remain a candidate in the 2006 parliamentary elections.