Radovan Krejcir: a fugitive businessman in a gilded cage
The Czech Republic has three of its most 'successful' businessmen on the run. The infamous "Pirate of Prague" Viktor Kozeny, wanted by the Czech authorities for absconding with billions of Czech crowns belonging to thousands of small shareholders, effectively 'bought' Irish citizenship and moved to the Bahamas. Radovan Krejcir, accused of tax evasion and conspiracy to murder, acquired Seychelles citizenship back in 1996. He has been living on the island ever since he managed to escape from his home in the middle of a police search in the summer of 2005. And then there is his good friend, Tomas Pitr, who appealed a Prague court ruling sentencing him to 8.5 years for tax fraud and recently left the country for what he called a planned holiday with his family. It is not yet clear whether Mr Pitr planned to leave the country in advance just like his two fellow fugitive businessmen.
Bizarrely, all three men appear to feel safe enough from the Czech authorities to be happy to remain in the spotlight. Tomas Pitr has been in contact with the media, Viktor Kozeny wanted to run in elections to the European Parliament last year, and Radovan Krejcir has published a book in which he describes in detail, but slightly changing names, the corrupt ways of Czech state officials.
Czech TV's reporter on corruption and organised crime, Jiri Hynek, is not surprised. After Radovan Krejcir had people baffled by his ability to slip away from police surveillance and head for the Seychelles, Jiri Hynek got on a plane to find the infamous businessman and get his story.
"Five policemen guarded him and had problems to communicate amongst each other because the search of the house took six hours - from 1am to 7am - and they were very tired. So, Radovan Krejcir wasn't guarded well."
What is his version?
"His version is that the police were corrupt. He says he managed to escape because the police said 'give us money and we will let you go' so he pretended to look for some money and didn't return to the house and escaped. That's his version. I would say the other version is closer to the truth. It was a mistake by the police."
You went to see him in the Seychelles. Were you surprised that he was willing to speak to you there, considering that he's a wanted man here in the Czech Republic?
"It wasn't that easy to find him. I came to the Seychelles in August with no information about his whereabouts. I asked many people, businessmen, and I had a photo of Radovan Krejcir, which I showed to people in hotels and so on. One day he called me on my mobile phone and told me I could speak to him. So, we met twice and he told me about his escape and so on. So, I was surprised."
Does he say he's an innocent man?
"He told me that he is not guilty and that it is a war between him and the police. He says the police wanted to arrest him because he gave the governing political party, the Social Democratic Party sixty million crowns to support its election campaign. But he thinks the police and the political party want to arrest him now so that they don't have to pay back the money. But there is no proof that this is true."
What was he like, or rather how did your opinion of him change after you met him?
"It didn't change much. I also spoke to many people from the area in Moravia that he is from...I still think he is connected with organised crime. But it was useful to speak to him and use it as another source of information."
After you went to see him it was even in the local papers in the Seychelles; how do people around Radovan Krejcir react to him now?
"They didn't know before we came. People were very surprised and Radovan Krejcir wrote in his book that after our visit he went to a pub and people were silent and had fear in their eyes."
How much in the book can you believe?
"I would say about 40%, mainly the part about his childhood. The part in the book about his escape is interesting but I don't know whether it's true and another interesting part in the book is about the corruption of political parties."
How corrupt is the state and how has Krejcir benefited from that?
"After the revolution, during the privatisation years, it was extremely easy to bribe someone to one's own advantage. His father was a member of the Communist Party during the socialist era, so Krejcir used the numerous contacts that he had to start a business with his father after the revolution. At this time Krejcir and his father had money and it was easy to bribe anyone [for favours] because at the time no-one had money in this country and customs officials, politicians, and clerks were willing to help."
What exactly was he doing business in and what privatisation process was he involved in?
"The most interesting is his business with oil. His company called M5 imported oil mainly from Germany but also from Russia. The company didn't pay taxes and now owes the state billions of crowns. This, I would say, is the most important and most interesting of the financial crimes he is accused of."
Krejcir was obviously prepared for the day the police would come to arrest him...
"I think he was prepared because he has a fake passport and a lot of money not just in the Czech Republic but in foreign banks too. In his book he also writes that he had thousands of dollars on him during his escape. So, he was very well prepared, I think."
Do you think that he will eventually be brought back to the Czech Republic to face prosecution?
"We don't have any extradition deals with the Seychelles. The main problem is that he is a very rich man. He has a lot of money for very good lawyers. He admitted it in his book. He wrote in his book that he bribed the police, clerks, customs officials, and so on. So, in such cases, it's very difficult to get him convicted. The Seychelles also like to have rich people because they want to have big investments so they are not willing to deal with and speak to Czech clerks about his extradition.
"He now lives in a rented house in the Seychelles but the Seychelles aren't very big. There are several small islands and it's a type of prison for him because he can't go anywhere. He says he is satisfied but I don't think he is. I felt that he would like to go back to the Czech Republic but it's impossible for him."