Fugitive Czech businessman Tomáš Pitr arrested in Switzerland

Photo: CTK

Swiss police have arrested the fugitive Czech businessman Tomáš Pitr, who in the Czech Republic faces 11 years in prison for tax evasion and embezzlement. The multi-billionaire was on the run for more than three years. Czech authorities believe that if extradited to the Czech Republic, he could provide crucial information about the infiltration by organized crime into state structures.

Tomáš Pitr,  photo: CTK
Tomáš Pitr is one of the few surviving symbols of the times when business, politics and organized crime were closely linked in the Czech Republic. After more than three years of being on the run, he was arrested at St Moritz by Swiss police who allegedly acted on information received from their Czech colleagues. Pavel Hanták is the spokesman of the organized crime unit of the Czech police.

“We have been investigating certain crimes for quite some time now, that led us to very concrete and precise information about when and where Tomáš Pitr should be staying. We then gave this information to our Swiss colleagues, and based on that, Mr Pitr was arrested on Monday, July 26, at 11 PM at the Kempinski Hotel in St Moritz.”

Photo: CTK
Tomáš Pitr fled the Czech Republic in 2007, two years after he was sentenced to five years in jail for tax evasion. He began his career in the late 1980s as a back–street money changer, and made his first million after the fall of communism when he sold a truckload of duty-free rum. In the mid-1990s, he bought several mid-size firms, and eventually gained control of Setuza, the country’s biggest food and chemicals producer. This January, he landed another six years for embezzlement of company funds.

Czech authorities will now request his extradition. Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil describes the immediate course of action.

Jiří Pospíšil,  photo: CTK
“We will analyze all the steps the Czech judiciary took against Mr Pitr; we now have 18 days to translate all the verdicts and we will compile one complex document that we will send to Switzerland. At the same time, we will ask for an extension of this time limit because it will take certain time to put together all the legal acts of the Czech judiciary related to Mr Pitr.”

If Mr Pitr does end up in Czech prison, and if he decides to talk, he might throw more light on the links between organized crime and politics that plagued the Czech Republic not so long ago. Jaroslav Kmenta is a reporter with the daily Mladá fronta Dnes who has been following the case for years.

Jaroslav Kmenta
“We generally know about the links between the mafia and former representatives of the political establishment around the year 2000. These were people around the then Social Democrat prime minister Stanislav Gross and later Jiří Paroubek, and within the Civic Democrat party, people around the former MP and later finance minister Vlastimil Tlustý and interior minister Ivan Langer.”

But according to the Swiss Justice ministry, Mr Pitr’s extradition might take up to a year. Several Czech experts even suggest the extradition request might be refused as the acts committed by Mr Pitr may not constitute a crime in Switzerland.