Falkon capital

Article in Novaja Gazeta

By Rob Cameron The Czech authorities have categorically dismissed claims by a Moscow newspaper of a link between the government's recent debt agreement with Russia and the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden. The story produced a minor sensation earlier this week, but as Nicole Klement reports, a Czech intelligence report seems to have removed the last scrap of credibility surrounding the claims.

The Czech word for "media hoax" is "kachna," or "duck," and on Wednesday evening, the Falkon capital duck appeared to hit the ground in a spray of feathers. It was unceremoniously brought down by the Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross. Mr Gross, quoting reports by the Czech intelligence service, said there was no truth whatsoever to claims that the investment firm Falkon Capital - which recently bought two-thirds of Russia's debt to the Czech Republic - was owned by a Saudi firm operated by Osama bin Laden.

The report appeared in the independent Russian weekly Novaja Gazeta, and was penned by a Russian journalist called Oleg Lurje. The Interior Minister claimed there were serious questions surrounding Mr Lurje's credentials.

Mr Gross said the journalist had previously worked as a press secretary for Russia's nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and had also been fined 20,000 dollars for writing a false article about a Swiss prosecutor.

But uncertainty does remain around the Falkon Capital deal, which was signed in October between the Finance Ministry, Falkon and the Russian government. Falkon has been cleared by the Russian and Czech authorities, but details of the deal itself remain a secret. Many in the opposition have harshly criticised this secrecy, saying with such large amounts of money involved, the public had a right to know.

Prime Minister Milos Zeman says the details of the contract are being kept under wraps on Russia's request, and points out that any MP with security clearance will be allowed to see a copy. Such secrecy might have been essential to clinching the deal, but it does seem to have helped create an atmosphere where speculation and rumour abound.