Flood-related crimes beginning to surface

Volunteers in Prague

Cynics would say it was only a matter of time before crimes related to last month's catastrophic floods in the Czech Republic would begin to surface. Now they have: along with earlier reports that people had been trying to sell flood-damaged foodstuffs, there is evidence that some individuals may have gone as far as to set up fraudulent charities pretending to collect money for flood victims. Jan Velinger reports.

Volunteers in Prague
Two cases of suspicious charities set up to gather funds for the flood victims in the Czech Republic have now come to light, and one of them is already being investigated by Czech police, an account at one of the country's largest banks - Komercni Banka. Bank spokeswoman Marie Ruzickova says that the case first came to bank employees' attention after members of the public remarked that suspicious-looking appeals had been posted in public areas featuring a Komercni banka account.

When they looked into the matter, bank employees discovered the client's account had not been registered as a public charity, arousing obvious suspicions and prompting the bank to cancel the account number and to contact police. Komercni banka's Marie Ruzickova confirmed that it was not possible at this time to tell which payments to the personal account were legitimate and which, if any, were fraudulent, a matter now left for the police to uncover. Ruzickova did say that the account had been cancelled early enough and that funds sent to the account number were relatively low, not even in the thousands of crowns: overall small sums. Still, a warning for those who would donate to charities in the coming days. Marie Ruzickova:

"It's very difficult to monitor the situation - we can't know whether a particular payment sent to a client's account is or isn't meant for humanitarian aid. If somebody does want to donate money for humanitarian purposes - it's their money, after all - than they should consider well exactly to whom they are sending it. I think there are charities that are well-known, through strong advertising campaigns...certainly a little piece of paper posted somewhere does not evoke a lot of trust. A client or donor who is unsure would certainly always do better to check out the charity's information on the internet or to confirm directly at the bank whether the account is truly registered for humanitarian aid."

The personal account at Komercni banka is the only charity under investigation so far, reassuring when one considers that in Prague and two other regions alone more than 160 humanitarian organisations have registered to help those afflicted by the floods, gathering an estimated 250 million crowns. The organisations' activities fall under the jurisdiction of regional authorities, who under the law are only allowed to verify the figures a year later. Hopefully, there will be no repeat of the case that took place after the floods in '97, in which one so-called charity gathered donated goods from various companies worth 10 million crowns. None of which went to flood victims.