News of Radio Prague

Parliamentary commission: sale of IPB cost state billions

According to a report on the sale of IPB bank last year, the way in which the government sold the bank cost the state tens of billions of Czech crowns. The government introduced forced administration in IPB last summer, after it was discovered that the bank had billions of crowns in bad loans that threatened to drag it under. IPB was then sold to another large Czech bank, CSOB, within a matter of days. The commission's report described the sale of the bank as highly favourable for CSOB, at the expense of Czech taxpayers, and laid the blame for the lack of transparency of the sale at the feet of former finance minister Pavel Mertlik.

Following the release of the report on Tuesday, the main opposition Civic Democrats called for a criminal investigation to be launched into the government's actions during the IPB crisis. Pavel Mertlik himself has defended the sale, saying that it was the best option for the Social Democrat government at the time. Mr Mertlik's successor, Jiri Rusnok, has estimated the cost of rescuing IPB at up to 95 billion Czech crowns, or roughly 2.8 billion US dollars. Mr Rusnok also rejected calls for the contract with CSOB to be re-examined.

Lower House passes referendum bill

The Lower House has approved an amendment to the constitution that will enable the holding of a referendum on Czech EU membership. 158 out of 189 MPs present voted in favour of the bill, well beyond the two thirds majority needed to change the constitution. The amendment will allow the transferral of some decision making powers currently held by the government to the European Union after accession. The international treaties that enable this transferral of power must be approved in a national referendum. The Czech Republic is expected to join the EU in 2004.

Czechs top marihuana usage table in region

According to the United Nations' annual report on drug use, the Czechs have the highest rate of marihuana usage and the lowest level of cocaine abuse in Central and Eastern Europe. The report says that the Czechs far outstrip their neighbours in the region, in the consumption of marihuana, and the level is also higher than average in Western Europe. The use of cocaine in the Czech Republic, on the other hand, is well below the European average.

Preliminary census results in

Preliminary results of the Czech Republic's census, held in March this year, were released by the Czech Statistical Office on Tuesday. According to the results, the current population of the Czech totals just under 10.3 million people, a drop of almost ten thousand since the last census ten years ago.

Head of intelligence service to be investigated

An investigation is underway into the head of the civilian branch of the Czech secret services, Jiri Ruzek, after he admitted under oath that he lied to protect an agent caught on a drink driving charge. A previous investigation into allegations that in 1995, Mr Ruzek, then the head of the military intelligence service, used his influence to protect an agent caught driving drunk in Prague, found no evidence of wrongdoing. But Mr Ruzek's admittance under oath that he lied at the time means that the case has been reopened to ascertain whether he abused his authority.

Dispute ended over property for Philips factory

The Northern Moravian town of Hranice announced on Tuesday that it has concluded a contract to buy a disputed plot of land set aside for the construction of a factory for the company Philips. The owner of the property, Marketa Regecova, sued the town over irregularities in the original contract, and the court in her favour. Since then, months of negotiations have been underway to finalise a new deal, so that the Philips factory, which represents an investment of one billion US dollars, can be completed.


And finally, a quick look at the weather forecast. The Czech Republic should see partially cloudy to overcast skies on Wednesday, with rain showers and thunderstorms expected in places. Daytime highs should reach 24 degrees Celsius. Night-time lows on Tuesday could drop to 9 degrees Celsius.