Wanted businessman leaves country to avoid prosecution

Tomas Pitr, photo: CTK

The Czech media are full of it - another billionaire wanted by the authorities has left the country. Earlier this year businessman Radovan Krejcir escaped from his villa while it was being searched by the police and is now enjoying the tropical climate of the Seychelles. Another entrepreneur, Viktor Kozeny, aka the Pirate of Prague has been evading prosecution for years in the Bahamas - another country which does not have an extradition treaty with the Czech Republic. The two have now been joined by another super-rich businessman, Tomas Pitr, who was sentenced last month to eight years in prison for tax fraud, but while waiting for his appeal to be heard, left the country just as an arrest warrant was issued for him.

Tomas Pitr,  photo: CTK
Tomas Pitr's name has been often mentioned in connection with the corruption scandal surrounding the sale of the state-owned chemicals group Unipetrol. None other than Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek alleged that the 34-year-old businessman had masterminded the affair. Tomas Pitr is involved in dozens of companies, including the foodstuffs giant Setuza, formerly state-owned, and taken over under questionable circumstances.

Last month Mr Pitr was sentenced by a Prague court to 8.5 years in prison for a 23-million-crown tax fraud from 11 years ago. He appealed against the verdict and left the country earlier this month. He says he is on a skiing holiday with his family in Switzerland and told Czech Radio over the phone that he would like to come back from his planned family holiday but, under current circumstances, he will wait and see.

Radovan Krejcir
Precisely for fear that Mr Pitr might leave the Czech Republic to avoid prosecution, an arrest warrant was issued for him last week. The Aktualne.cz internet news server quotes Tomas Pitr as saying that he had learnt about the warrant a few days in advance and left the country just in time. This is where it gets similar to the case of Radovan Krejcir, who escaped earlier this year - he also says the authorities helped him leave the country. However, in Friday's interview for the CTK news agency Mr Pitr denied knowledge about the warrant.

Both Tomas Pitr and Radovan Krejcir claim they are innocent and their cases have been manipulated. Tomas Pitr recently visited Mr Krejcir in his Seychelles home and spoke of him as a victim of police manipulation. Interestingly, while avoiding the Czech authorities, both Mr Pitr and Mr Krejcir communicate with the Czech media. In the last 24 hours, Tomas Pitr has given phone interviews to several journalists. Over the phone from the Seychelles, Radovan Krejcir is a frequent guest of television discussion programmes where he is confronted with politicians and accuses them of widespread corruption.

Mr Krejcir has promised to reveal documents to prove it but has so far only published a book where he describes in detail the alleged corrupt practices of police and governmental authorities, but doesn't name names. It now remains to be seen whether the Pitr case will develop in the same way.