Press Review

Few people know about it but it seems to be true. Czechs have oil fields. And although this country is most unlikely to emerge as a future Kuwait, crude oil has become the focus of an emerging dispute between Prague and London. Here's Libor Kubik with a review of Thursday's Czech press.

LIDOVE NOVINY reports on an emerging rift between the Czech Republic and Britain over oil fields in Moravia, the eastern part of the country. The paper says the rift now involves also political leaders, diplomats and secret services of both camps. The strange behaviour of the Czech oil company Moravske Naftove Doly, the paper reports, has invited formal complains to the Czech Embassy in London by Britain's former defence minister and foreign secretary, Malcom Rifkind, and a senior defence adviser on Central and Eastern Europe, NATO's former second-in-command in Europe, Jeremy MacKenzie. Both officials intervened after the Moravian company stopped communicating with their British partners Ramco, who have invested nearly nine million British pounds into a joint oil and gas prospecting project. The paper quotes from the Czech Ambassador Pavel Seifter's despatch from London, according to which Mr. MacKenzie has described Moravia's oil fields as a strategically important source of crude oil which could end up in unauthorised hands. Mr. MacKenzie hinted there could be some connection with organised-crime circles in Russia and Slovakia. An insider source who did not wish to be identified has disclosed to LIDOVE NOVINY that Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman is deeply concerned over the British warning and has ordered civil intelligence services to launch an investigation.

Today's PRAVO examines the political future of Chamber of Deputies Speaker Vaclav Klaus, a former prime minister, leader of the main-opposition Civic Democratic Party, and a noted Euro-sceptic. Anything could happen, the paper points out. He could be the next prime minister. He could even be the next Czech president, or he could make do with a parliamentary seat, or, indeed, he could become a regional governor. But the paper discards the two last-named propositions. Given that Mr. Klaus is not exactly noted for modesty and restraint, it looks as if he's aiming either at the premiership or presidency. But the higher they rise the harder they fall: Mr. Klaus's political ambitions could be easily thwarted by his foes from the four right-of-centre coalition parties. If they score a success in the upcoming Senate elections, PRAVO notes, his chances will shrink considerably and he might well make do with a cushy job in a venerable foreign financial institution.

MLADA FRONTA DNES has discovered that TV Prima, the country's second-largest commercial television station, is actually controlled by three people. The shares of the GES Holding company, which bought Prima from the failed IPB Bank, are effectively in the hands of its Chairman of the Board Ivan Zach and his colleague Petra Marschalova. The identity of the third major shareholder has not been disclosed but a well-informed source has indicated that he or she is also of Czech origin. GES has refused to confirm MLADA FRONTA DNES's information but the paper notes that CSOB, the bank which bought IPB in June after the hapless bank almost went under, is definitely after the billions of crowns that make TV Prima. CSOB, the paper notes, enjoys both overt and covert support from the State. Plus, the paper notes, IPB's one-time shareholder, motor mogul Antonin Charouz, is very conspicuously connected with the capital of TV Nova, the unchallenged queen of private TV broadcasting in the Czech Republic.

Author: Libor Kubík
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