Police launch nation-wide search for convicted businessman

Tomas Pitr, photo: CTK

Since last week Czech police have been searching last-known addresses of controversial Czech businessman Tomas Pitr, after he failed to begin serving a five-year jail sentence at Prague's Pankrac prison. Along with Radovan Krejcir, Pitr is easily one of the best known Czech millionaires wanted by police, in his case for tax fraud dating back to the early '90s. No one seems to know where he is, and there are fears that, like Radovan Krejcir who escaped to the Seychelles, Tomas Pitr could also give authorities the slip.

Tomas Pitr, photo: CTK
More cynical observers probably weren't all that surprised when last week convicted Czech businessman Tomas Pitr failed to show up at Prague's Pankrac prison. He was meant to begin serving five years for tax fraud but he did nothing of the sort. Pitr - one of the Czech Republic's richest businessmen - has successfully avoided jail since last autumn when he first cited poor health as a reason. Last week, he did something similar, sending authorities a last-minute fax saying he was again sick and had undergone hospitalisation. That apparently was the last straw for Judge Petr Novak, overseeing the case, who said he felt deceived, having been given a promise earlier through Mr Pitr's lawyer that the businessman would begin his sentence. The judge compared Mr Pitr's cited ill health to little more than suffering from "headaches and dehydration".

Even more questionable was the fact that Tomas Pitr's document lacked verifiable information, even a name of the facility where he was supposedly being treated. As a result, the court issued a domestic arrest warrant followed by European and international warrants two days later. The latter were "preventive measures" in the event that Mr Pitr - like a number of infamous Czech businessmen before him - tried to escape abroad. At the weekend, the country's justice minister, Jiri Pospisil, told public broadcaster Czech TV he did not think the judge had made a mistake in the case. He did say there were problems with the system:

"A day after Mr Pitr failed to show up the judge issued a warrant for his arrest and according to our supervisory department - let me stress that I had the whole matter looked into - the judge didn't make a mistake... It is now up to the police to find Mr Pitr. I have to say that unfortunately [felons] not showing up to begin their sentences is a problem in the Czech justice system: we have 5,000 such cases in the country. That's the reason why I put forward an amendment in Parliament that would make avoiding prison a crime, and would make convicts lose their chance for earlier release through parole. That is the solution we've put forward."

The justice minister admitted on Sunday that he had received no information as yet regarding Tomas Pitr's possible whereabouts; but he also indicated there was nothing that suggested the businessman had already fled abroad. Where and when Tomas Pitr now resurfaces is the "million dollar question": authorities will be hoping when he does, it will be in Czech custody.