Fugitive Czech billionaire arrested in South Africa

Radovan Krejcir, photo: CTK

The Czech newspapers on Tuesday were full of reports concerning the arrest of Radovan Krejcir, one of the country's most notorious fugitives, who was finally apprehended at the weekend after spending nearly two years in exile in the tropical Seychelles Islands.

Radovan Krejcir, photo: CTK
"On the 21 April at six o'clock in the evening, this person was apprehended in Johannesburg. He did not put up any resistance and was very surprised," a jubilant Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer told a packed newsroom on Monday evening, holding up pictures of "this person" - fugitive billionaire Radovan Krejcir.

Wanted in the Czech Republic for various crimes, including conspiracy to murder, money forgery, tax evasion, extortion, and abduction, Radovan Krejcir has enjoyed massive notoriety in this country ever since he gave police the slip right under their very noses, when he escaped from his luxury villa while they were searching it two years ago.

Ivan Langer, photo: CTK
The affair caused a major scandal at the time and cost the police chief his job. Krejcir resurfaced a few months later in the Seychelles, where the authorities here couldn't touch him because the Czech Republic has no extradition agreement with the small island state and the Czech entrepreneur had purchased Seychelles citizenship in 1996.

When Krejcir's wife - who is also facing complicity charges - and his son subsequently joined him in the Seychelles it seemed that the controversial billionaire businessman had escaped the clutches of the law and was set to live out his days in tropical luxury. Krejcir even felt secure enough to thumb his nose at the Czech authorities by giving regular interviews in the Czech media from his island retreat.

But now he has been caught. He was apprehended disguised with a beard and glasses while using a false passport at Johannesburg airport at the weekend. Exactly why Krejcir left the safety of his Seychelles hideaway is not clear, but many in the media have speculated that his lavish lifestyle meant that he had to risk a trip abroad to get some badly needed funds.

Czech intelligence officers say they had been monitoring Krejcir for some time and had been waiting to pounce as soon as he made a false move. They said police from five different countries cooperated on the case but would not divulge any further details as they may want to use similar methods in the future.

Jiri Pospisil, photo: CTK
The Czech Republic now has forty days to lodge an extradition request with the South African authorities. Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil says that work on this process has already begun.

"I anticipate that an extradition request will be processed in the coming days. We are waiting for word from our colleagues in South Africa as to whether they want any additional information. If they don't need any further data, then we will file our request and issue an arrest warrant, which was the basis for the apprehension of this person."

As South Africa has already extradited two Czech citizens in the past, it is not likely that a similar request for the extradition of Krejcir will be turned down. Interior Minister Ivan Langer has already said that he fully expects to see Radovan Krejcir before a Czech court in the near future. Krejcir has already been sentenced in absentia to six and a half years in prison for fraud, but with other charges pending he could now be facing even more time behind bars. His wife is still in the Seychelles.