Business briefs

Skoda Octavia

Some 14 business agreements signed during official visit of Chinese prime minister; Skoda Octavia named 'best import' in German automotive magazine's annual 'Auto Trophy' readers' survey; Parliament to debate eminent-domain law for industrial zones - towards securing land for $1.2bn Hyundai plant; Lobbyist at centre of Unipetrol privatisation inquiry says ex-government chief of staff offered him a bribe; The BBC Czech service may continue as commercial venture

Some 14 business agreements signed during official visit of Chinese prime minister

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek  (right) and his counterpart Wen Jiabao,  photo: CTK
Czech and Chinese officials and companies signed 14 agreements this week during a visit by the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Among the most significant is a deal between China's largest carmaker, SAIC, and Skoda Auto. The companies signed a joint declaration that will allow the Czech-based producer to use 70 percent Chinese-sourced parts to assemble its Octavia line of sedan cars in Shanghai, starting in 2007. In other countries, like India, the cars are assembled from imported kits. The deal with China will see parts made there under license - a new model of foreign production for Skoda, which is part of Germany's Volkswagen Group.

Skoda Octavia named 'best import' in German automotive magazine's annual 'Auto Trophy' readers' survey

In related news, the new Skoda Octavia has been named "best import" in Germany's annual "Auto Trophy" poll. The prize is announced by the motoring magazine "Auto Zeitung". This year, more than 90,000 readers of the magazine voted in the poll. Skoda Auto has been part of the Volkswagen Group since 1991. The new Octavia model was named 2005 car of the year in the Czech Republic, where it is manufactured, as well as in Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Lithuania, Serbia and Montenegro, Ukraine, and Great Britain.

Leading Chinese television maker Changhong to $30m build plant in Nymburk industrial zone

Back to Czech-Sino relations: CzechInvest, the state agency charged with attracting investment, this week signed a memorandum with China's largest television manufacturer, Changhong, towards building a new factory here. Changhong expects to make an initial investment of 30 million dollars in a plant within an industrial zone of Nymburk, a town about 50 kilometres northeast of Prague. The Chinese company's investment could rise to 100 million US dollars in 2007. The Czech Republic's biggest financial group, PPF, will own 30 percent of the Changhong investment.

Parliament to debate eminent-domain law for industrial zone -- towards securing land for $1.2bn Hyundai plant

The lower house of Parliament is to begin debating a special eminent-domain law for industrial zones in the coming days, with the immediate aim of appropriating land near the city of Ostrava, where the South Korean automaker Hyundai plans to build a 1.2 billion dollar plant. A group of cabbage farmers who own property at the proposed site was refusing to agree a land swap deal that would allow the deal to go through. Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has said he cannot rule out harsh measures if the farmers reject compensation. Hyundai is threatening to build the plant elsewhere if a purchase contract for the land is not signed this year.

Lobbyist at centre of Unipetrol privatisation inquiry says ex-government chief of staff offered him a bribe

Jacek Spyra,  photo: CTK
A lobbyist at the centre of a parliamentary investigation into the privatisation of the Czech oil and chemical group Unipetrol has testified that the sale was manipulated. Lobbyist Jacek Spyra, a Polish national, said that former Czech government chief of staff Zdenek Dolezel asked him for a 5-million crown bribe in exchange for information on Unipetrol and access to key politicians. A taped conversation between the men that aired on commercial television led to Dolezel's dismissal. On that tape, he is heard asking for "five in Czech on the table," which Dolezel testified was part of an elaborate code the two men had worked out. Spyra testified that no such code existed. The Polish company PKN Orlen this year paid 540 million dollars for a controlling stake in Unipetrol, allegedly tens of millions less than the market value. The former Czech Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross, was also called to testify before Parliament last week. He denied any involvement.

Former Komercni Banka board of directors acquitted of fraud charges

A court has ruled that nine former members of the board of directors of the Komercni Banka bank are not guilty of fraud. They were accused of helping Austria's BCL Trading (owned by entrepreneur Barak Alon) defraud - or "tunnel" -- the bank of eight billion crowns (a little under 330 million US dollars). Komercni Banka is one of the Czech Republic's biggest banks.

The BBC Czech service - slated for closure - may carry on broadcasting on the commercial channel BBC Worldwide

An official from the BBC's Czech language service - which has been slated for closure by London along with ten other foreign language services - has said the radio station's management hopes to form a joint venture with a local partner and continue broadcasting. Michal Rucicka said in an interview that the new-old service would be carried by BBC Worldwide, a commercial branch of Britain's public broadcaster. The BBC Czech service has an audience share of less than 1 per cent, but is popular with decision makers. The BBC is to launch an Arabic-language TV station and is closing down Czech and other foreign-language services to help fund that venture.