Czech Consolidation Agency still missing half a billion crowns

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The state bail-out agency, the CKA, is frantically looking for 500 million crowns (close to 21 million US dollars) that have disappeared from its accounts. The agency discovered that the money was missing from one of its subsidiaries two months ago. Though the man responsible has been found and a deadline for the money's return has just passed, the half a billion crowns are still lost without a trace. Dita Asiedu reports:

The Czech Consolidation Agency (CKA) has been vital in ensuring the privatisation of a number of formally state owned companies. Its role today consists of buying problematic assets and loans from state-owned companies and banks and solving these either by selling them off or by restructuring the firms that have been put under its control.

Two months ago, as the CKA was finishing off the sale of the company Galileo Real, a review of the accounts showed that half a billion crowns had simply disappeared. The trail in the hunt for the missing money led to Jan Sik, the director of IMOB - the agency's subsidiary that is managing Galileo Real. Mr Sik admitted that he had authorised the transfer of the money to Switzerland. The plan, he says, was to leave the money in a bank for a few months and then take it out with the accumulated high interest that Swiss banks offer.

But Mr Sik authorised the transaction without the green light from the CKA leadership. Despite the agency's attempts to determine the money's fate, the Swiss bank has refused to cooperate on the grounds that it needs proof that the CKA is its true owner - proof that can most likely never be provided. The CKA management has discovered that there is no written contract for the transaction.

But did Mr Sik plan to return all of the money or simply "borrow" it and pocket the interest? Mr Sik has been relieved of all posts and is under investigation for fraud and embezzlement. He says the transaction was made by a businessman named Milos Skorepa. Mr Skorepa in turn promised to return the money by the end of June. But the money is still nowhere to be found.

According to the Finance Ministry, the dubious transaction could not have gone unnoticed and heads will roll over the affair.