The Slovak Supreme Court has upheld a verdict by a lower instance court according to which Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš did not knowingly collaborate with the communist secret police in the 1980s. The court turned down an appeal by the Slovak Nation's Memory Institute, an agency overseeing former secret police files, which protested against the verdict on the grounds that members of the former secret police who gave evidence in Babiš’ favour were bound by an oath to secrecy. Babiš, a Slovak entrepreneur who now has Czech citizenship, maintains that, as an employee of a foreign trade firm, he had met with the secret police, but never pledged to cooperate.
German police have arrested former Czech senator Alexander Novák, who is one of 24 officials charged in the Czech Republic in connection with abuse of EU funds. Novak was reportedly part of a scam in the Northwest Regional Operational Programme office that distributes EU subsidies. The damage caused was estimated at close to 14 billion crowns. He was abroad at the time of the police raid last year.
The police have charged 18 people with fraud in connection with a number of disadvantageous deals made by the Prague Transport Company. Among the cases investigated is a deal for overpriced tickets in a contract brokered by the Virgin Islands-registered company Cokeville Assets in 2007. Among those charged is the influential Prague lobbyist Ivo Rittig, who is believed to have arranged the latter deal.
Just over a month after the first case of bird flu was detected in the Czech Republic, the spread of the deadly H5 virus continues. Vets have now confirmed its incidence in twenty localities around the country, five of which were confirmed just this weekend. The most serious case is in the vicinity of Blatná, South Bohemia, where 20 thousand ducks are to be slaughtered in the coming hours. Several countries outside the EU have banned imports of poultry from the Czech Republic.
The government’s HateFree Culture project, which is aimed at fighting racial and ethnic prejudices and increasing tolerance among Czechs, is likely to be terminated in April of this year, the news site Novinky.cz reported. Human Rights Minister Jan Chvojka who made the decision, told the media that he was unhappy about the amount of negative publicity linked to the project’s financing and personnel matters. The project was largely financed by grants from Lichtenstein, Iceland and Norway as well as an annual contribution from the Czech government. Its employees, who have been working on the project since 2014, are reportedly shocked by the decision.
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek would back Donald Tusk's re-election as European Council President. Mr. Zaorálek told reporters in Brussels on Monday that Mr. Tusk had his support but he emphasised that the decision was up to the EU countries' presidents and prime ministers. Tusk, former prime minister of Poland, made it clear at the EU summit in Malta on Friday that he would like to continue at the European Council's head. His present mandate will expire in May. "Our communication with Donald Tusk has been smooth, we comprehend his positions," Zaorálek said on behalf of the Czech Foreign Ministry. He said Prague would discuss the issue with its partners, mainly within the Visegrad Four group, which also comprises Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka wants a working group set up to discuss plans for high speed rail links, the CTK news agency reported on Monday, following the prime minister’s meeting with the head of the Rail Infrastructure Administration, Pavel Surý. The working group should be made up of experts on transport, local development and the environment. Possible high-speed routes have been identified as between Prague and Brno and Prague to Dresden, Germany, where they might be extended to Berlin and Hamburg. Sobotka will discuss the latter possibilities with the minister president of the Saxony region, Stanislaw Tillich, when he visits Prague on Tuesday. Sobotka and Surý also discussed a rail link between Prague’s Václav Havel airport and the centre of the city.
The Czech Chamber of Commerce and the Confederation of Industry have asked the government to speed up the immigration process of Ukrainian workers seeking employment in the Czech Republic. Due to the record low unemployment many Czech firms are recruiting workers from Ukraine but they say that the process of securing a working permit lasts for six months which is creating serious complications. The business associations have urged the Czech Foreign Ministry to take effective measures to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. The ministry has already increased the quotas for work permits for Ukrainian workers from 320 to 400 a month but it may have to double that number to meet demand.
Career diplomat Daniel Meron is to be the new Israeli ambassador to the Czech Republic, the Israeli Embassy in Prague said on Monday. Mr. Meron previously served in diplomatic posts in the United States, Norway and Cyprus. He will replace Gary Koren who left his ambassadorial post in Prague in January of this year. It is not yet clear when Mr. Meron will hand over his credentials to President Zeman. The Czech Republic and Israel enjoy close relations and the Czech Republic is perceived as one of Israel’s closest allies in the EU.