Zelezny-CME battle continues

Vladimir Zelezny

The ongoing legal battle between Vladimir Zelezny - General Director of the Czech Republic's hugely successful private television station TV Nova, and the American firm CME - the company which helped Mr Zelezny set up Nova in the early 1990s, took a new turn on Tuesday, when a French court ordered the confiscation of Mr Zelezny's private residence in Bretagne. At a press briefing in Prague later that day, Mr Zelezny said he was prepared to accept a recent ruling by the International Court of Arbitration and pay CME 27 million US dollars in compensation. So is the tide finally turning for the charismatic media mogul? Daniela Lazarova has the story.

Vladimir Zelezny
Despite rumors that the TV magnate had transferred the bulk of his considerable assets to his former wife and various foundations, and was now what journalists jokingly dubbed "a penniless intellectual" Vladimir Zelezny appeared supremely confident as he promised that CME would get its money.

Mr Zelezny told reporters he was prepared to pay the set price for the original 5.8% share in Nova Consulting demanded by CME, but he said he would put up a fight to make sure that the shares he received in return would have their former value. How he intends to achieve that, after making the payment, is unclear, but a new court battle has not been ruled out.

More importantly though, Mr Zelezny failed to say when he intended to make the payment. Michael Donath, the CME representative present at the press briefing, made it perfectly clear that CME was not about to be fobbed off with a promise. Meanwhile, CME is fighting the battle with NOVA on a further two fronts. The US company is demanding an estimated 470 million dollars in lost profits as a result of its 1999 fallout with TV NOVA's General Director. Although last December a Czech court ruled that there would be no compensation for CME, the Bermuda-based company is still hoping to get its claim recognized by two other courts of law - one in London, the other in Sweden. In both cases CME has filed charges against the Czech Republic citing alleged violation of US-Czech and Dutch-Czech agreements on mutual protection of investments. I asked CME representative Michal Donath in what way the Czech Republic had failed CME. Is this the beginning of the end of the Czech TV magnate? While his lawyers scramble to put together 27 million US dollars, every day of procrastination is costing the General Director an additional 320,000 dollars in fines. Meanwhile, following a tip off from CME, the Czech police are now looking into Mr Zelezny's finances in connection with alleged tax evasion.

When everyone's through with him Mr Zelezny might truly end up being a penniless intellectual. But with the man whom Forbes magazine recently put on the list of the richest men in the world, that is somewhat unlikely. As for his successful TV empire, Zelezny's TV NOVA licence is not due to expire until 2005, and in spite of all the negative publicity commentators agree that he seems to be firmly strapped into the driving seat.