Pirate of Prague inches closer to extradition to U.S.

Viktor Kozeny, photo: CTK

Viktor Kozeny, the so-called Pirate of Prague, appeared one step closer to extradition to the United States on Thursday. A court in the Bahamas - Mr Kozeny's adopted home - confirmed June's decision to deport him to the U.S. to face charges of bribing senior government officials in Azerbaijan. However Czech investors allegedly defrauded by Mr Kozeny in the 1990s are still no closer to seeing their money.

Viktor Kozeny, photo: CTK
Viktor Kozeny, once the darling of the Czech privatisation process, inched his way closer to the American justice system on Thursday, although ever the optimist, he was smiling when he entered the Nassau courthouse and still smiling when he came out.

He cuts a striking figure in the pages of today's newspapers - red slacks, white T-shirt and black suit jacket, the attitude of casual elegance offset slightly by the handcuffs and the beefy Bahaman police officers at his side.

Speaking via his lawyer Mr Kozeny told reporters nothing had changed - the judge had merely reiterated an earlier decision to extradite him to America, where he is wanted on bribery charges. In a sense he's right, though he will still appeal against Thursday's decision and has fifteen days to do so.

Last year U.S. federal prosecutors charged him and two other men with participating in a scheme to bribe senior government officials in Azerbaijan over lucrative oil privatisation deals.

Most Czechs, however, associate Viktor Kozeny with the privatisation scams of the early 1990s, and there is a parallel campaign to bring Mr Kozeny to trial here.

Viktor Kozeny, photo: CTK
Back then, the right-wing government of Vaclav Klaus issued citizens with coupons to buy shares in large state-owned companies, injecting much needed cash into the economy and providing ordinary Czechs with what was supposed to be a good investment.

Forty years of Communist rule, however, meant most people were unacquainted with the ins and outs of share dealing. Many, therefore, decided to allow the promising Harvard Investment Funds, founded by Viktor Kozeny, to invest their money for them. The investment fund, however, allegedly stripped the companies of their assets, and the cash - some 13 billion crowns of it - reportedly ended up in the Bahamas. As did Mr Kozeny.

The chances of bringing him to trial in the Czech Republic are, however, slim. It will take many months, maybe years, for the Azerbaijan case to be resolved. At the end of that process, Mr Kozeny will either be found guilty and serve a prison sentence in the U.S. Or he will be found innocent and return to the Bahamas, a country with no extradition treaty with the Czech Republic. Those Czech shareholders who unwittingly subsidised Mr Kozeny's island paradise probably have little hope of seeing their money again.