News

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Daily: Čunek not likely to face charges over alleged benefit fraud in 1990s

Christian Democrat chairman Jiří Čunek most likely will not face charges for alleged social welfare fraud during the 1990s, the newspaper Právo has said. An unnamed source close to the investigation said Mr Čunek had not committed a crime by accepting benefits despite having millions in various bank accounts, adding that the whole matter was covered by a five-year statute of limitations. But, a representative of the Karviná state attorney’s office said the case had not been shelved; he said “some result” would be announced at the end of this month.

Jiří Čunek stepped down as deputy prime minister and minister for regional development over allegations he had accepted bribes while the mayor of a town in Moravia. That investigation has since been dropped and he has contended he has a right to be reinstated.

Ministry files complaint over fraud concerning Libya's debt

The finance ministry this week filed a criminal complaint against an unknown perpetrator in connection to possible fraud concerning the repayment of Libya's debt to the Czech Republic; the news was released by ministry spokesman Ondřej Jakob on Friday. Libya's debt for arms supplies dates back to former Czechoslovakia, amounting to several billion crowns. At the latest inter-governmental talks Libya produced a letter from 1997 questioning the existence of the debt. Earlier, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said the document was a forgery.

The settlement of Libya's debt is still to be negotiated by Czech and Libyan representatives. The original debt was about 3 billion crowns (the equivalent of around 165 million US dollars), but according to some recent estimates, the debt with added interest now exceeds 4.5 billion.

Police investigating large-scale fraud at Defence Ministry

Police have charged 24 former officials of the Ministry of Defence and business people linked to them with corruption, Mladá fronta Dnes has reported. On Friday the daily said organised crime had infiltrated the ministry, carrying out fraud in the form of dozens of manipulated tenders amounting to hundreds of millions of crowns. The police’s organised crime unit has said the corruption had reached the highest echelons of the Defence Ministry.

PM: Civic Democrats likely to lose three of 12 regional governorships

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said his party, the Civic Democrats, is likely to lose some of regional governor posts in elections in the latter half of this year. In an interview for the newspaper Hospodářské noviny, he said the party was unlikely to hold on to the 12 governorships it now has, but would likely win re-election in nine regions. Mr Topolánek said that while at the time of the last regional elections in 2004 the Civic Democrats benefited from the “bad government” of the Social Democrats, now they will be punished for unpopular steps they have taken in government.

Schwarzenberg calls on Myanmar leaders to take country towards democracy

Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg called Thursday on Myanmar's ruling junta to take the country towards democracy on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the country's independence. In a letter sent to the junta's leaders, Mr Schwarzenberg said he hoped that Myanmar's population would soon have the possibility to celebrate “real freedom”. The foreign minister also challenged the junta to release all political prisoners and to start talks with the leaders of democratic forces in the country. The junta violently cracked down on peaceful protests led by Buddhist monks in September with at least 31 people killed and 74 missing, according to a UN report.

PM: government to decide on whether to proceed with sale of 7.0 percent ČEZ stake

Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said in an interview that the Czech government will have to decide whether to proceed with the planned sale of a 7.0 percent stake in state-controlled electricity giant, ČEZ, or to sell less in view of the share price's recent rise. The prime minister made the statement in response to questions from financial daily Hospodářské noviny. The government set an original target of earning at least 30 billion crowns by cutting its stake of just over 67 percent in Central Europe's biggest electricity company, the newspaper points out. The Czech news agency, ČTK, has reported that thanks to the share's appreciation, the government would now only have to sell a 3.6 percent stake, with shares amounting to 1.63 percent already offloaded.

Former head of Czech BBC to receive Order of the British Empire

British internet news site Press Gazette has reported that Czech journalist Vít Kolář is among those selected to receive 2008 New Year Honours in Great Britain. The honours, bestowed by British Queen Elizabeth II, were decided in the final days of last year. According to Press Gazette, Mr Kolář, the former head of the now closed-down Czech BBC, will be awarded the Order of the British Empire, Officer class – not associated with a knighthood. The ceremony will take place at Buckingham Palace later in the year.

Homeless man, who saved newborn, treated at psychiatric hospital

A homeless man, who saved a newborn abandoned in a rubbish bin in December, has been taken to Prague’s Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital for treatment. Police assisted in escorting the baby’s saviour, Miroslav Szamszeli, to the hospital after he reportedly tried to attack a doctor treating him for a sprain. Earlier the man had jumped from a 3-metre high window at a new place of residence. The spokeswoman from the Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital said on Friday that Mr Szamszeli’s behaviour was in reaction to heightened media attention. She said he had since calmed and his condition is stable. Doctors will assess possible next steps after further evaluation.

Supreme Court confirms sentence for fugitive businessman

The Supreme Court has rejected an appellate review lodged by businessman Tomáš Pitr and upheld a five-year prison sentence he was given for tax fraud. A court spokesman released the news on Friday. The court also turned down the appellate reviews by others convicted along with Mr Pitr. The 36-year-old businessman’s whereabouts remain unknown, and Pitr is wanted on an international arrest warrant after allegedly fleeing the country. He was due to have begun serving his sentence in June.

Poll puts left-of-centre party almost 9 points ahead of Civic Democrats

A poll conducted by the Median Agency has put opposition party the Social Democrats almost 9 points ahead of the ruling Civic Democrats if elections were held today. According to the poll, the left-of-centre opposition party would clinch 37 percent of the vote, followed by the Civic Democrats coming in second, with 28.2 – their worst projected finish since the party narrowly won the national election in June 2006. In the Median poll, the Social Democrats would not be the only party to improve: the poll has suggested that the Communists would come in third with 16.6 percent – their best projected finish since the election.

NHL ice hockey: Hanzal, Vrbata key in Phoenix win

Forwards Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata each scored goals and notched assists to help their team, the Phoenix Coyotes, down the Chicago Black Hawks 4:2 in NHL ice hockey action on Thursday. Hanzal was named player of the match, while Vrbata was the third star.

In other games, Petr Sýkora of Pittsburgh scored his twelfth goal of the season in a 6:2 Penguin romp over Toronto.

Three points on the night (including a third period tying goal) by Tampa’s Václav Prospal weren’t enough against the Montreal Canadiens, who rebounded in the 3rd to win with a final score of 6:3.

Weather

The weather into the weekend is expected to be mostly overcast with a chance of mixed rain and snow. Daytime temperatures are expected to range between 0 and -6 degrees Celsius.