Daily news summary
Czech Republic and Austria vow to improve bilateral ties
The Czech Republic and Austria say they want to turn a new leaf in bilateral ties, intensifying both governmental and regional cooperation. Following a meeting in Vienna between Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and visiting Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek the two sides said much time had been lost through past hostilities in bilateral relations and they were ready to reestablish dialogue on all outstanding issues, boost business and cultural ties and improve the infrastructure linking the neighbor states. Two major areas of friction between the Czech Republic and Austria are the countries’ stands on nuclear energy and the Beneš decrees which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million Sudeten Germans from post-war Czechoslovakia.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visits Prague
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is expected to arrive in Prague on Thursday for a two-day visit to the Czech Republic. He will be meeting for talks with President Miloš Zeman ,Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and other Czech top officials. Among the topics on the agenda are the Crimea crisis, UN peacekeeping missions, climate change and human rights. On Friday the UN Secretary General will give a lecture at Charles University on the topic “The Czech Republic and the UN: Peace, Development and Human Rights in a Changing World.”
Police charge another eight officials with abuse of EU funds
Anti-corruption police have charged eight officials working in the Northwest Regional Operational Programme office that distributes EU subsidies with abuse of office, soliciting bribes and harming the interests of the EU. According to the ctk news agency the officials were arrested and charged on Tuesday and six of them remain in custody. The suspects allegedly abused EU funds in two projects in the city of Liberec: the reconstruction of the Church of Mary Magdalena and the construction of the recreational park Perštýn.
PM faces administrative proceedings for failing to request clean screening certificate from Babiš
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka faces administrative proceedings on suspicion of having committed a misdemeanour when he proposed Andrej Babiš for finance minister without requesting a clean screening certificate from him, the internet news site Novinky.cz reported on Thursday. A clean screening certificate would refute collaboration with the former communist secret police of which Mr. Babiš is suspected. The request for administrative proceedings against the prime minister was filed with the Prague 1 Cíty Hall by Mayor Oldřich Lomecký. The office also received the same proposal for President Miloš Zeman who appointed Babiš to the cabinet without a clean screening certificate. However no administrative proceedings can be launched against the head of state.
Finance minister calls for resolution to Proton Therapy Centre dispute
Finance Minister Andrej Babiš has urged Health Minister Svatopluk Němec and the countrý’s largest health insurer VZP to try and resolve the controversy surrounding the Prague Proton Centre. Following a drawn out-controversy between the insurer and the centre the dispute looks set to end up in court in a case that Mr. Babiš said could cost the state billions of crowns. Police have filed charges of abuse of office against a former manager of VZP in connection with an agreement between the insurer and the Proton Therapy Centre, where he subsequently got a lucrative position. The insurance company is refusing to cooperate with the centre, instead sending cancer patients for treatment abroad, on the argument that the agreement on cooperation signed is highly disadvantageous for it.
Press: Sobotka oversaw undervalued sell-off of mining firm while finance minister
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka oversaw the sell-off of mining firm OKD for a suspiciously low price in 2004 when he was finance minister, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Thursday. The company was sold for CZK 4.1 billion when it was actually worth more than twice as much, the newspaper said. Mr. Sobotka had the value of OKD verified by a law firm that also represented the buyer, MfD said, quoting a police file. The current prime minister had previously worked at the law firm, which is headed by his friend. When the European Commission questioned the selling price, the Finance Ministry sent a letter to Brussels asserting that it had been in order – despite having received assessments putting the value of OKD at CZK 10.3 billion. Mr. Sobotka says the letter was signed by a deputy.
Iraq pushing to speed up purchase of L-159 fighter jets
The Iraqi government has intensified talks on the purchase of Czech-made Aero Vodochody L-159 trainer fighter jets, the ctk news agency reports. The head of the Aero company Ladislav Šimek told the ctk that after years of negotiations Iraq was pushing to acquire an unspecified number of trainer jets as soon as possible. The Iraqi military is reportedly to acquire the first batch of F-16 fighter jets from the US military in September and lacks trainer jets for its pilots. The Czech army, which acquired 72 of these planes 15 years ago, has 36 surplus aircraft which it has been trying to sell for some time. The Czech military is also close to signing a contract with the US firm Draken International.
Civic Democrats losing members by the hundreds
The Civic Democratic Party which was forced into the opposition after its crushing defeat in October’s early elections is losing members by the hundreds, the internet news site Novinky.cz reports. Following the corruption scandal that led to the fall of the Civic Democrat-led government and the party's poor showing in the elections the party lost half its members going from 41 thousand to 21 thousand registered members. Its supporters have also turned their backs on the party which only go 7.7 percent of the vote in the last general elections. A complete overhaul of the party’s leadership and its new chairman Petr Fiala have so far failed to turn around the party’s ailing fortunes.
Carlsberg buys majority stake in Žatec brewery
The Danish brewer Carlsberg has bought a majority stake in the Žatec brewery in the Czech Republic as it taps into a growing market for Czech premium beer. According to the ctk news agency Carlsberg acquired a 51 percent stake in the Žatec brewery for an undisclosed sum. The brewery has a capacity of 200,000 hectolitres.
This March warmest in at least 50 years
This March was the warmest in at least 50 years, according to the Czech Hydro-meteorological Institute. The average temperature was 6.6 degrees Celsius, some 3.9 degrees higher than the mean for the period 1961 to 2014. Temperature records were repeatedly broken around the Czech Republic last month, with 24 degrees Celsius recorded at some weather stations.