Daily news summary

Minister Petříček: Iran visa scandal ‘individual failing’ of recalled Amb. Čumba

Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (Social Democrats) has described the irregular granting of Czech visas to Iranian entrepreneurs as having resulted from an “individual failing” on the part of the recently recalled Czech ambassador to Iran.

The daily Deník N reported on Wednesday that the Czech Republic had recalled career diplomat Svatopluk Čumba from Tehran early following an investigation of fraudulent practices in granting Schengen visas to Iranians.

According to the daily, the scheme allegedly also involved the Czech-Slovak -Iranian Chamber of Commerce, led by Jan Kavan, a former Czech Foreign Minister, and Zdeněk Zbytek, a former officer in the Czechoslovak Army who led a tank battalion during the Velvet Revolution.

Amb. Čumba allegedly granted 400 priority visas to individuals recommended by Kavan and in doing so circumvented standard procedures for granting Schengen visas.

Petříček said he was prepared to provide full details to the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of Parliament. The General Inspectorate of the Czech Foreign Ministry has been investigating the alleged practice.

Czech gov’t suspends plan to use Stutox II rat poison in agricultural fields

The Czech government has temporarily suspended plans to give farmers blanket permission to use a certain type of rat poison in fields, orchards, meadows and vineyards. The cabinet is set to debate the proposed use of the Stutox II poison on Monday.

The Environment Ministry said Stutox II presents a serious threat to birds and other animals, including household pets, and that its use violates the law on landscape protection.

Its use was given the green light by the Central Institute for Supervision and Testing in Agriculture. The institute, which is under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry, has confirmed that the poison had never been used on Czech territory.

Czech farmers had sought permission to use the poison mainly to combat a widespread infestation of voles, which have decimated grain and rapeseed crops and are threatening corn, beet, sunflower production.

Communist Party leader under fire for linking growing pork prices to Lety farm removal

Communist party leader Vojtěch Filip has come under fire for linking the growing price of pork on the market to the closure of the Lety pig farm in South Bohemia, which stood on the site of a former Nazi concentration camp for Romanies.

The Museum of Romany Culture, which had been pushing for the farm’s closure for years so as to enable the authorities to build a dignified memorial to the victims, said it was shocked by Filip’s words, noting that the closure of the offensive pig farm had been an important step in preserving the memory of the nation.

It moreover cited the Association of Czech Pig Breeders as saying that the growing price of pork stemmed from growing prices on world markets in connection with the incidence of swine fever in China and had nothing to do with the closure of the Lety farm.

The Social Democratic Party called Filip’s populist claim “repulsive”.

Lower house to debate Jourová’s nomination for EU commissioner

The committee for EU affairs in the Czech lower house will discuss the nomination of Věra Jourová for another term as the Czech EU commissioner on Tuesday, August 20, the ctk news agency reported.

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, already informed the incoming president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen about the government’s choice and the lower house is expected to give its final stamp of approval.

Jourová’s nomination has won broad support both from the government and opposition parties. Prime Minister Babiš is hoping that her experience will increase the country’s chances of getting a more ambitious portfolio, such as the internal market or digitalization.

Czech fighters to patrol Baltic airspace in NATO mission

As of September, Czech Gripen fighters will monitor and patrol the airspace over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as part of a NATO mission.

The Czech Army confirmed on Friday it would jointly patrol the Baltic States’ airspace along with alliance members Belgium and Denmark.

As in the years 2009 and 2012, Czech pilots will protect the airspace of the Baltic States, which do not own supersonic fighters of their own. Most recently, Czech Gripens were deployed over Iceland.

Altogether there are four NATO Multinational Battlegroups of the Enhanced Forward Presences (eFP) in the Baltic States and neighbouring Poland, established to deter Russia from further aggression following its annexation of Crimea and incursions into eastern Ukraine.

Endangered Red Panda escapes from Pilsen Zoo

A three-year-old male Red Panda, an endangered species, has escaped from the Pilsen Zoo. Authorities have asked for the public not to try to catch the animal, which though not inherently aggressive, could strike out if cornered.

The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens, or “shining-cat”) is a small arboreal mammal, only slightly larger than a domestic cat, native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China.

Pilsen Zoo spokesman Martin Vobruba said Red Pandas are agile explorers and may have leapt from a tree to escape the enclosure.

Several Red Pandas had escaped from Czech zoos over the past decade. One that escaped from Jihlava Zoo was dubbed “Kajinek” after a Czech hitman who escaped from a high-security prison in north Moravia.

Czech police arrest alleged members of Šumava prostitution ring

Police in České Budějovice have arrested two foreign men and a Czech woman for allegedly supplying prostitutes to pensions in the Šumava region bordering Germany. If convicted on pimping charges, they face up to eight years in prison.

Police spokesman Jaroslav Ibehej said the three suspects had been bringing women from Ukraine, Romania and the Czech Republic to Šumava guest houses since at least 2011. The alleged ringleader also faces money laundering charges, he said.

RegioJet to launch Prague train service to Budapest, Vienna

Private rail company RegioJet has announced it will begin operating trains between Prague, Budapest, and Vienna as of June 2020, via the Czech city of Brno.

In doing so, the rail operator will directly compete with the Czech and Austrian national carriers.

RegioJet said train ticket prices would be comparable to those of “bus prices” and therefore cheaper than what Czech Railways charges now.

Weather outlook

Rain is in the forecast for Saturday throughout the country, with thunderstorms expected in Moravia. It should be relatively cool in western Bohemia, with average highs of around 18 degrees Celsius. Elsewhere in the country, temperatures should range between 22 to 31 degrees Celsius.