Russian intelligence officers were the most active of foreign secret service agents on Czech soil last year, says the annual report by the country’s counter-intelligence service, BIS. According to the report, Russian agents in the Czech Republic focussed most on economic issues such as energy and industry, including the completion of the country’s Temelín nuclear power plant. A Czech-Russian consortium is one of three participants bidding in a multi-billion crown tender on the completion of new nuclear reactors at Temelín. The report by BIS adds that in 2011 Russia was successful in continuing long-term efforts to maintain a high number of agents in the Czech Republic under cover of its diplomatic corps.
In related news, the BIS report for 2011 says that organised crime was able to interfere in decisions within the state administration, local government and the judicial system last year. According to the counter-intelligence service, client networks formed parallel power structures which - in some cases – were able to influence or affect decisions by local government bodies. The methods used by perpetrators, the BIS report stresses, were either difficult to prosecute due to lack of evidence, or were not by definition illegal. According to BIS, organised crime in the Czech Republic operates on three main levels: influencing the legislative process, bribing or discrediting members of the justice system, and siphoning off public funds (as well as laundering money). According to BIS, organised crime last year also attempted to manipulate political parties and NGOs.
The BIS annual report also found that business and lobbying groups in 2011 maintained an influence on public procurement, personnel strategy and strategic decision-making within key companies owned or co-owned by the state. Specifically named are the national carrier Czech Airlines, Czech Railways, and the freight operator CD Cargo. The state-run Railway Infrastructure Administration, the report said, had taken non-transparent steps when it came to public tenders, while forestry firms had tried to influence a tender overseen by Lesy ČR - the state forestry enterprise. Some financial institutions, such as the Czech Export Bank, meanwhile, took non-standard steps and financed risky projects, BIS stressed, while energy companies, including ČEZ and Czech Coal, tried to use their contacts in the state administration to influence legislation, according to the report.
Ronald Adams, CEO of Czech truck maker Tatra, will not be detained during the investigation of bribery charges levied against him, a Brno municipal court ruled on Tuesday evening. The 62-year-old US citizen was arrested on Monday on charges brought by the State’s Attorney’s office in Brno. The charges are based on testimony by a former Defence Minister Martin Barták and arms dealer Michal Smrž. The Brno State’s Attorney Jan Petrásek requested on Monday that Mr Adams be detained for the duration of the investigation, claiming the suspect might otherwise flee the country. Mr Adams also happens to be one of the key witnesses in a corruption case against Mr Barták and Mr Smrž. Neither of the defendants is currently in custody.
A court in Ostrava has handed the owner of devastated local apartment buildings, Oldřich Roztočil, a 30,000 crown fine for failing to move out residents after eviction notices were issued by the authorities. About 100 residents, mostly Roma, have decided to remain in buildings that form a slum in Prednádraží Sreet in the hope of seeing repairs go ahead. The owner questioned Wednesday’s ruling, saying that he had appealed to the residents to leave but was left few options when they refused. Mr Roztočil may appeal the court decision.
The government has approved an amendment that will extend the powers of the municipal police an undisclosed source told the Czech news agency. Under the proposal – to take effect in July of next year – police will have broader powers to enter restaurants and gambling establishments after official opening hours if there is a suspicion minors had been allowed in, had been served alcohol or were allowed to buy cigarettes. At present, ČTK says, the municipal police are restricted to investigating establishments only during regular hours. The amendment does not allow officers to carry out unsubstantiated raids or to enter facilities by force, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Denisa Čermáková recently stressed.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas has indirectly expressed support for Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, saying he hoped that developments pertaining to the Prague Transit Company would not influence the current coalition between the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 at Prague City Hall. The prime minister was referring to the recent dismissal of Vladimír Lich, the former head of the transit company and an ally of the mayor’s, who pressed charges against several individuals over questionable company contracts. In a statement for the Czech news agency, the prime minister stressed that matters at the transit company were now under investigation and that politicians needed remain outside of the process. On Tuesday, Prague’s mayor Bohuslav Svoboda suffered a key defeat when he failed to get backing from fellow Civic Democrats at City Hall in his support of Mr Lich. Both TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats at City Hall are pushing for a tender to find a suitable successor to the former transit company head.
The cost of petrol and diesel fuel reached record prices in areas on Wednesday, with a station along a highway in Brno offering the popular Natural 95 for over 40 crowns per litre. Several other stations also posted prices setting a new record and breaking the previous ‘psychological barrier’. Analysts say, despite the weakening US dollar, the price could still go up as high as 41 crowns. For the time being, the majority of petrol stations are reportedly trying to keep the price of gas just below the 40-crown mark.
The Czech government on Wednesday approved a proposal aimed at making the Czech system of drawing subsidies from European funds in 2014 to 2020 more intelligible and less demanding in terms of administration, Deputy Prime Minister Karolína Peake told journalists. Control of how European subsidies were being used would also be made easier, she said at a press conference after the cabinet meeting. The proposal was drafted by a working group with the participation of the Local Development Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry.
A hailstorm halted traffic along the train route from Prague to Hradec Králové on Wednesday afternoon; the storm damaged safety equipment in two stations along the route leading to a more than one hour delay in both directions. The stations that saw damage were Velký Osek and Převýšov. Travel along the route has since resumed but delays in the area are still expected, a spokeswoman confirmed.