The Czech branch of Transparency International has called on the finance minister, Miroslav Kalousek, to prevent what the corruption watchdog sees as billions of crowns in potential damages related to a controversial government tender. The tender is aimed at cleaning up damages to the environment dating back to the communist era, but the government is planning on commissioning just a single firm to oversee the project, an order estimated as worth 115 billion crowns (the equivalent of around 7.5 billion US dollars). Critics have charged that the government has approached the issue carelessly and also suggested that analysis in the tender’s preparation was faulty. Others fear that the mammoth deal – dubbed the “deal of a century” by Hospodářské noviny - could invite influence peddling and corruption.
The court senate in the Kuřim child-abuse case, presided by Judge Pavel Goth, ruled that some proceedings on Friday were not to be open to the public due to the disturbing nature of material examined by the court. Some three hours of video recordings found in the home of Klára Mauerová – accused of torturing her children - is said to show the maltreatment of her son Ondřej, who a neighbour accidentally discovered locked up last year. Klára Mauerová’s sister Kateřina and four others are also charged with abuse, actions which may have been related to involvement in a religious cult. If found guilty, the defendants could face up to 12 years behind bars.
The police have shelved their investigation into an alleged bribery attempt of a Czech senator back in February during the country’s presidential election. Senator Josef Novotný, a member of the Independents/European Democrats, maintained he was offered a bribe of two million crowns if he voted for incumbent Václav Klaus. Mr Novotný voted for Mr Klaus’s opponent Jan Švejnar. A police spokesman said on Friday that officers had uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing. The senator, meanwhile, admitted earlier that he had no tangible proof, stressing the bribe had been offered person-to-person.
The head of the Czech Agrarian Chamber, Jan Veleba, has revealed that Wednesday’s storms that buffeted parts of the Czech Republic led to extensive damages in agriculture: farmers will see an estimated 300 thousand tons less grain harvested in 2008, a loss of around 1 billion crowns. Storms on Wednesday evening also caused extensive damage to power lines throughout much of the country. Prague’s airport also saw delays. The power utility CEZ has estimated that some 750,000 customers were affected; almost 30,000 remained without power on Friday, although the utility said that for most the situation would return to normal by the end of the day.
The government has decided to earmark one billion crowns (the equivalent of around 66 million US dollars) for the EU presidency the Czech Republic takes up in the first half of 2009. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said made the announcement on Friday. He also said an additional 656 million crowns would be spent by individual ministries on related activities. The allotted funds will help finance the rental of premises for the hosting of conferences and ministerial meetings, as well as promotion, interpreters, cultural events, technical support and more. They will also cover security measures and the reinforcement of personnel at selected embassies. The government’s overall expenses for the presidency are projected at 1.9 billion crowns, from 2007-2009, plus 1.4 billion crowns provided by individual ministries - a total sum of 3.3 billion which the government has said is en par with other countries which have been at the EU’s helm.
Author and essayist Lenka Reinerová has died at the age of 92: the news was confirmed by publisher Joachim Dvořák on Friday who had been in contact with Mrs Reinerová’s family. Reinerová, widely read in Germany and the Czech Republic, was attributed with reviving a long tradition of German-language writing in the Czech capital.
In related news, Czech schoolchildren and teachers have greeted the end of the school year: elementary and secondary schools around the country on Friday handed out final report cards ahead of the summer holidays. Some, such as an elementary school in Ostrava in the east of the country, teaching students in both Czech and English, handed out report cards with English comments. A 9-year-old pupil at the school told the Czech news agency she didn’t mind getting comments in English; she said she had gotten used to it.
The Czech Football Association has revealed that highly-respected French coach Gérard Houllier, who worked with Czech players such as Vladimír Šmicer and Milan Baroš at Liverpool in the English Premiership, has expressed in interest in coaching the Czech national side. The team is without a coach after Karel Bruckner confirmed his retirement after the Czechs’ exit from Euro 2008. The 60-year-old Houllier’s last post was with Lyon last year. Other possible candidates for the national team post are said to include a number of names inlcuding Brazilian coach Sebastio Lazaroni as well as former player for Bulgaria Christo Stoičkov. The new coach is expected to be named by July 17.
One person was killed during violent storms which hit the Czech Republic on Wednesday night. A woman of 45 died a few hours after being hit by a falling tree at Svitavy in east Bohemia; she had apparently been sitting at a table in a beer garden, a rescue services spokesperson said. Fire brigades were called out to deal with fallen trees and other problems at hundreds of places around the country. Thousands of households were left without electricity, some trains were cancelled and some flights from Prague Airport were briefly delayed. The storms also interrupted some Radio Prague shortwave broadcasts.