Fresh controversy over Vitkor Kozeny

One of the most notorious figures in the short history of the Czech Republic, businessman Viktor Kozeny, has again been making the headlines in the press this week. It all started with confusion over whether an international warrant has been issued for his arrest in connection with billions of missing Czech crowns, and Mr Kozeny himself added fuel to the fire by proclaiming that he wants to found a new political party in the Czech Republic. Nick Carey has this report.

You would hard put to find an adult Czech who does not know the story of Viktor Kozeny and his part in the coupon privatisation scheme that was launched in the early 1990s. The Czech government decided to sell off shares in large state-owned companies to ordinary people, and every adult was allowed to buy a set number of shares. In stepped Vitkor Kozeny, who had just returned from the United States, with less than 2,000 US dollars to his name. He set up a company called Harvard Funds to manage the shares of small investors, promising huge returns. Many Czechs duly handed over their shares, but suddenly billions of Czech crowns of shareholders' money, and Mr Kozeny, went missing. He later turned up in the Bahamas, where he allegedly owns a small island, with a new Irish passport.

Although almost eight years have passed, Mr Kozeny has not been forgotten. Many Czechs want to see him brought to trial, and the police have launched an investigation into the activities of Harvard Funds. Late last week, Prime Minister Milos Zeman joined the fray, saying that an international warrant could soon be issued for Mr Kozeny's arrest. There has been controversy over Mr Zeman's words, as he was apparently misquoted. But, says opposition Civic Democrat MP Jiri Payne, whatever the prime minister actually said, the mere act of discussing the case could play right into Viktor Kozeny's hands:

"I think this will actually help Mr Kozeny, because he could argue in the Czech courts that he is being prosecuted for political reasons, because the prosecution was launched by the prime minister and not by the police or by the courts. So I think it was a mistake for the prime minister to even talking about it."

Mr Kozeny then added fuel to the fire by announcing that he intends to launch a new political party in the Czech Republic. Jiri Payne believes that Vitkor Kozeny is playing a game to try to divert the attention of the Czech media:

"Instead of being the subject of a prosecution case, he is going to be an active player in the Czech media forum. I think that from his side this is a very clever point, to turn the attention of journalists so that they won't ask him about his criminal record or criminal activities of the past ten years, but will ask him about his new political party."

While political commentator Vaclav Zak's reaction to news of Mr Kozeny's statement was one of sheer amusement:

"Well, I started to laugh. One could guess that there are some crazy people who would believe Vitkor Kozeny even after all of their experiences of him, but I don't suppose there are enough stupid Czechs that his party could have any importance on the Czech political scene. It's out of the question."

What do you think the party could be called? He's an Irish citizen, so what about the Irish Minority Party? What name would you recommend?

"Well I think it could be the Cheated People Party. Then all cheated people would vote for Viktor Kozeny and that would give his party massive support."