With 9 days left before the second round of the Czech presidential elections, candidates Miloš Zeman and Karel Schwarzenberg took part in a debate hosted by Czech Radio. The presidential hopefuls discussed their views on a range of issues from central bank and Constitutional Court appointments to foreign policy and the country’s relation to the EU. Miloš Zeman, who came first in the election’s first round, dismissed concerns about his links to the Russian oil firm Lukoil; Karel Schwarzenberg said, among other things, he would prefer a majority vote for the lower house. Both candidates also expressed the view that the Czech Republic should only join the EU’s planned banking union after it adopts the euro.
Two Czech citizens held in Greece since September on espionage charges were released from jail on Wednesday on a 5,000 euro bail. Their release came after the Greek authorities stated that they did not represent a security threat. The two video games developers were arrested and accused of espionage after they took photos of a military facility on the Greek island of Lemnos. The men said they took the pictures to use them in a new game. They are expected to arrive in the Czech Republic on Thursday; however, they might have to return to Greece for a trial.
The Czech government on Wednesday approved legislation granting the country’s intelligence services the right to access tax returns, the news agency ČTK reported. The government believes the move should help limit economic threats to the country and reveal the ownership structures of non-transparent firms. Currently, Czech law only allows tax authorities to provide information to the secret services. The draft legislation is yet to be debated in the Czech Parliament.
The cabinet on Wednesday also approved an updated anti-corruption strategy for the years 2013 and 2014. The document, which mainly focuses on prevention, says political parties and civil servants are at the core of corruption in the country as they influence public procurement projects. The strategy recommends the introduction of new legislation including bills on civil service and the financing of political parties to make public procurement more transparent. According to Transparency International, which collaborated on the strategy, the Czech Republic ranked 54th in the world in the group’s corruption perception index, up from 57th place the previous year.
After concluding an investigation into a 2008 purchase of Tatra trucks for the Czech military, the police have proposed that former defence minister Martin Barták be prosecuted on corruption charges. The police believe that in his capacity as deputy defence minister at the time, Mr Barták asked a Tatra manager for a five-million-dollar bribe to smoothen the deal. The police have also raised corruption charges in the same case against the owner of an arms dealing firm, Michal Smrž, who mediated the purchase. The prosecution said formal charges against the men should be filed by the end of the month.
January 16 is for the first time being marked in the Czech Republic as a legislatively recognised day honouring Jan Palach. Palach, who was a student at Charles University, set himself alight on Prague’s Wenceslas Square on that date in 1969 in protest at the resignation of the Czechoslovak population less than six months after the Soviet-led invasion that brought to an end the Prague Spring reform communist movement. He died on January 19, 1969 and his funeral turned into a significant demonstration against the occupation.
The Czech telecommunications authority on Wednesday fined the Luxembourg-based operator of satellite TV channels Skylink and CS Link 15 million crowns for misleading advertising. The authority said that the firm last year imposed a charge on services it originally billed as free, and failed to inform its clients about the change. The firm said it would appeal the penalty.
A municipal police officer in the north-eastern town of Karviná on Tuesday night shot dead a 32-year-old robber who was holding up a gas station and threatening the assistant. The police arrived at the scene when the man, armed with a knife, was still inside the gas station. When the officers asked him to lay down his weapon and step outside, he took the assistant hostage. One of the policemen then fired two shots at him, mortally wounding him. The case is now under investigation by the state police.
Czech tennis players Tomáš Berdych and Radek Štěpánek have advanced to the third round of the Australian Open. The eight-seed Berdych beat Guillaume Rufin of France 6-2 6-2 6-4 while Štěpánek, seeded 31st, defeated Spain’s Feliciano Lopez with the same score. In the women’s singles, Czechs Klára Zakopalová, Lucie Hradecká and Kristýna Plíšková have all been knocked out of the season-opening event in Melbourne.
Former Czech international Martin Fenin has joined Slavia Prague, the club’s manager said on Wednesday. The 24-year-old striker left the Czech top division in 2008 to play for Frankfurt in the German Bundesliga. But career was hindered by injuries and depression, and he joined the German second-division club Energie Cottbus in 2011. Fenin has appeared 16 Czech national team games in which he scored three goals.