Business briefs

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Parliamentary committee to investigate Unipetrol gets green light; 'Pirate of Prague' Viktor Kozeny awaiting extradition ruling; Private doctors, health-care facilities can expect VZP reimbursement next week; Consumer price inflation up 2.2 percent in September - sharpest increase since 2000; Agriculture Minister looking to increase fines on retailers selling 'rotten' food

Parliamentary committee to investigate Unipetrol gets green light

The lower house of Parliament this week voted overwhelmingly to establish a special commission to investigate the privatization of Unipetrol, the Czech oil and chemicals group. Recently, a similar commission in neighbouring Poland said that the Czechs could have gotten a much higher price for Unipetrol, which was sold to the Polish company PKN Orlen. The commission suggested that politicians from both countries may have accepted bribes, but offered no hard evidence. Polish prosecutors reportedly want to question several leading Czech politicians in this regard, including the current finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka and former Prime Minister Stanislav Gross. Czech politicians are now debating who should sit on the Unipetrol commission.

'Pirate of Prague' Viktor Kozeny awaiting extradition ruling

The Czech-born financier known as the Pirate of Prague is expected to remain in police custody at least until this Wednesday, when a Bahamas judge is to rule on a US request for his extradition. Viktor Kozeny was arrested by the FBI last week. He is alleged to have bribed government officials in Azerbaijan and defrauded US investors. Kozeny, who has an Irish passport and has lived in the Bahamas for many years, also faces charges in the Czech Republic for allegedly embezzling assets worth some 275 million dollars.

Private doctors and hospital can expect VZP reimbursement next week

Health Minister Milada Emmerova was sacked on Wednesday as the government struggled to defuse an ongoing crisis in the Czech health care system. Her removal came a week after thousands of doctors held a one-day strike in protest at delays in payments from the state-run General Health Insurance Company, VZP. The deputy Chairman of the Czech General Practitioners Association, Jan Jelinek, said Thursday that VZP has since promised that private doctors, clinics and hospitals will get reimbursements starting next week. He said doctors had also been promised that current payment delays would shrink from 50 to 20 days by November.

Consumer price inflation up 2.2 percent in September - sharpest increase since 2000

Consumer-price inflation rose year on year by 2.2 percent in September, marking the steepest increase in five years. The cost of petrol was a major factor, with average fuel prices some 21 percent higher last month than in September 2004. Commenting on the results, the governor of the Czech National Bank, Zdenek Tuma, indicated that the central bank might raise interest rates to offset inflationary pressures.

Agriculture Minister looking to increase fines on retailers selling 'rotten' food

The Czech Commercial Inspectorate has in recent weeks found serious health violations at retail chains operating throughout the country, including the deliberate sale of expired meat and other grocery items. Minister of Agriculture Petr Zgarba said this week that his ministry will prepare legislation that would tighten controls and increase the maximum fine for selling expired or rotten food. The fine is now equivalent to 125,000 dollars. Minister Zgarba said it could be increased to some 15 times that amount.