Real estate used by Russian Embassy reviewed amid concerns over illegal practices

Russian Embassy in Prague

Thanks to contracts signed under the communist regime, the Russian Embassy received a vast amount of real estate in Prague, Karlovy Vary and other Czech cities free of charge to be used for diplomatic purposes. With just six Russian diplomats left in the country, the Czech Foreign Ministry says it is time to revise property relations and make the embassy accountable for how the property is used.

Russian school building in Bubeneč | Photo:  Radio Prague International

The Russian school building in Bubeneč, a section of Stromovka park, 200 flats intended for diplomats and a villa in the luxury quarter of Jevany on the Prague suburbs, those are just some of the several dozen lucrative properties that are at the disposal of the Russian Embassy. Contracts dating back to communist governments have either transferred ownership of the properties to the embassy or given it the right to use them indefinitely for free.

With Czech-Russian relations at freezing point and just a handful of Russian diplomats left in the country, Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský concluded that it is high time to revise property relations, setting up a working group to look into how the property afforded to the Russian embassy is being used in the present day.

Martin Dvořák | Photo: Radka Šubrtová,  Czech Radio

Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Dvořák explains what legal claim the Czech Republic can make if the property is in the embassy’s ownership:

“Whether it is being used for diplomatic purposes or not makes a big difference. Properties used for diplomatic purposes have diplomatic immunity and other privileges – the Czech authorities have no right to entry to such buildings and they enjoy tax and other privileges. And, from what we know today, only about five of the properties serve for diplomatic purposes under the terms of the Vienna Convention. The remaining 36 or 37 do not.”

One of the most blatant examples of this are the 200 flats intended for Russian diplomats and VIP embassy guests. How they are being used has been a matter of debate for some time and the Foreign Ministry’s attempt to open up this sensitive issue with the Russian authorities in 2017 led nowhere. Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Dvořák says it is time to address the issue again:

Villa in the luxury quarter of Jevany | Photo:  ČT24

“We have serious indications that these properties are the subject of illegal economic activities, we have received information that the flats are being rented out to private individuals who are moreover paying in cash. This would be in violation of the Vienna Convention. These are things that should not be happening, but very likely are. So we want to straighten things out.”

Given that the 2017 attempt to open up the matter with Russia failed –what are the chances that, given the current freeze in relations –they may succeed? Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Dvořák says the government must exert pressure to find a solution.

“First we would like to try reaching an agreement with the Russian side, based on the fact that circumstances have changed. If that fails, we would consider legal action, but we would have to make sure that we have a strong case in court.”