Police are investigating 51 people in connection with allegations of corruption at the Czech Defence Ministry, and fraudulent tenders worth more than 300 million crowns (13.5 million USD). On Friday, a Defence Ministry spokesperson confirmed that a number of tenders dating from 2005 were being looked into. Andrej Čírtek admitted that one third of the accused were former employees of the ministry, though none of those implicated worked for the ministry any more, he said. The other individuals being investigated all came from private enterprise. The tenders in question all related to smaller-scale construction and maintenance of ministry properties.
Deputy Environment Minister Jan Dusík has been chosen as the Green Party’s number-one candidate for the upcoming European elections, it was announced on Saturday. Number two on the list of Green candidates is MP Kateřina Jacques. The Greens were the last political party in the Czech Republic to decide upon their candidates for the European elections, they did so at a national council meeting in Prague on Saturday. The Czech Republic will have a total of 22 seats in the new European Parliament, at the moment, it has 24. Party leader Martin Bursík has said that he would consider the election of three Green candidates to the European Parliament a ‘massive success’.
Police have received five weapons as part of an ongoing firearms amnesty that, they say, were used in violent crime. An amnesty on illegal firearms has been running since the beginning of February in the Czech Republic and is set to last until July. On Friday, a spokesperson said that following forensic tests police were investigating the owners of five of the weapons handed in. So far, some 755 guns have been given to the police as part of the amnesty. This is the third amnesty of its type in the Czech Republic in recent years. Over 3000 illegal weapons were handed over to the police in 1996 and then 2003, including a WWII Soviet-made anti-tank rifle and a British sub-machine gun dating from the same period.
The European Disability Forum is holding a meeting in Prague this weekend as part of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. During the first day of the meeting, the head of the Czech Council for the Disabled, Jiří Morávek, said that the Czech Republic lagged behind older EU members when it came to the integration of disabled people into the community. The Czech Republic pledged to pass an anti-discrimination bill before joining the EU in 2004. The bill was passed by Parliament but vetoed by President Vaclav Klaus. As such, the Czech Republic could now be fined by the European Commission for failing to honour its commitment.
The Head of the Czech Lower House, Miloslav Vlček, would like to fine MPs who are unable to explain their absence from sessions of Parliament, reports Mladá fronta Dnes on Saturday. The reaction to Mr Vlček’s proposal has been lukewarm, writes the daily. The head of the Lower House would like to fine deputies who are absent from more than 30 percent of parliamentary sessions without good reason. He proposes the money will be docked from MPs’ expense accounts, which can amount to 40,000 crowns (1,800 USD) a year. Mr Vlček will bring the proposal to Parliament in March. So far, deputies have questioned how the system would be monitored.
Police impounded 1440 vehicles in 2008, a spokesperson announced on Saturday. In 2007, the number of vehicles confiscated by police was 677. Each time, the majority of the vehicles confiscated were lorries; in 2008, the number of foreign lorries impounded by Czech police totaled 840. According to spokeswoman Veronika Benediktová, the Czech police also confiscated a number of vehicles from those driving well above the speed limit on the country’s motorways. So far this year, some 79 vehicles have been confiscated.
Interior Minister Ivan Langer has come out in criticism of those at the head of the Czech football association and called for a change in leadership. In Saturday’s edition of the newspaper Sport, Mr Langer attacked FA bosses for preparing insufficiently for a change in the way stadiums are policed. When the Czech Gambrinus Liga resumed after the winter break last week, football grounds’ security was supposed to be taken care of by the clubs themselves, and not the Czech police. But, after violence erupted at a match in Brno, the police were forced to intervene and five arrests were made. On Saturday, Ivan Langer said that if the Czech FA had prepared better for the change, police intervention would not have been necessary. The head of the football association Pavel Mokrý responded that it was not his organization which was to blame and called Mr Langer’s comments ‘inadmissible state intervention’ into the FA and its board.
In tennis, Czech women’s number one Iveta Benešová is out of the Mexican Open after losing to the tournament’s number two seed, Flavia Pennetta in the semi-finals. Benešová, who won the competition in 2004, lost 6-3 6-3 to the Italian on Friday. Pennetta, the defending champion, will now go on to play tournament favourite Venus Williams, who beat the Czech Republic’s Barbora Záhlavová Strycová on Saturday.
Czech banks snubbed the prospect of international financial aid on Friday, saying they were well capitalized and did not need any financial assistance. The World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank announced a 24.5 billion-dollar two-year plan to provide capital to central and east European banks. But two of the three largest Czech banks, Komerční Banka and Česká spořitelna responded immediately that they did not need such financial assistance. The Czech government and National Bank have been keen to stress that the national economy does not need outside support.
Russia has responded to a warning made by the Czech EU presidency, urging Belarus not to recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions, as ‘politically shocking’. The remarks were made by Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzeberg earlier this week. Speaking in Brussels, Mr Schwarzenberg said that Belarus would face a ‘very, very difficult situation’ if it did recognise the independence of pro-Moscow Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has moved to improve relations with the EU recently after years of isolation. Last week, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana made his first ever visit to the country. If Belarus were to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would become only the third country to do so, after Russia and Nicaragua.