Police file charges in Prague Proton Therapy Centre dispute

Photo: archive of Proton Therapy Centre

The drawn-out conflict between the largest Czech health insurer VZP and the Prague Proton Therapy Centre on the validity of a multi-billion crown agreement may soon come to a head. The anti-corruption police confirmed on Monday that they had filed charges of abuse of office against an unnamed person involved in the case.

Photo: archive of Proton Therapy Centre
The Prague Proton Therapy Centre for the treatment of cancer patients opened with great fanfare a year ago – the fifth of its kind in Europe and one of the most modern medical facilities on the continent. However its fame was short lived. A year on, the centre is run on a skeleton staff and is practically empty. The reason is a highly dubious letter of intent on an agreement on future cooperation signed six years ago between the centre’s future owners and then-VZP representative Antonín Pečenka. At the time the health insurer was under forced administration and Pečenka, who was then deputy health minister, had a free reign on decision making. During the 30 days he held this position at VZP he signed the respective letter of intent stating the conditions of a future agreement with the proton centre – guaranteeing 1,600 patients a year and a billion crown in payments annually for a period of 15 years. When the Prague Proton Centre demanded that the two sides sign an agreement proper late last year VZP refused to comply, saying it was unaware of the existence of a letter of intent. VZP spokesman Oldřich Tichý:

Oldřich Tichý,  photo: Czech Television
“ The conditions of the deal stipulated in the letter of intent are highly disadvantageous for VZP and extremely favourable for the Prague Proton Centre where the official who signed it was shortly afterwards employed as project manager.”

The country’s largest health insurer claims that the letter of intent signed by Antonín Pečenka is invalid and last year filed a criminal complaint in connection with the case. It points out that the deal was not discussed or approved by the VZP board of directors and argues that the promise of 1,600 patients a year is completely unrealistic since the already well-established Munich proton centre treats only about 500 patients a year. It moreover argues that proton therapy is not suitable for all cancer patients and says that if VZP were to pay one billion crowns a year to the Prague Proton Therapy Centre it would not have enough money left to treat other cancer patients at other medical institutions.

The ongoing police investigation points to a massive case of abuse of office. While the police have not said who has been charged, everything points to the fact that it is the said Antonín Pečenka who claims even now that there was no conflict of interests involved.

Photo: archive of Proton Therapy Centre
Even if he were to be found guilty of abuse of office, the legal validity of the letter of intent he signed would still have to be examined in court. The Proton Therapy Centre claims that all the steps it took were in good faith and in fully in line with Czech legislation. Moreover on the grounds of the said letter of intent its owners received a 4 billion crown loan from Erste Group for the centre’s construction, which could result in an international arbitration case for the Czech Republic.