A Czech court of appeal has sent the former finance minister Ivo Svoboda and his close aide Barbora Snopkova to five years in prison for fraud. They were found guilty of having unlawfully transferred 6.5 million crowns to their own private companies from the now bankrupt pram manufacturer Liberta while they were on its board of directors. Svoboda is the first former cabinet minister to be served a prison sentence since the fall of communism.
Jiri Belohlavek will replace Leonard Sladkin as chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He will take up the position in mid 2006. Jiri Belohlavek is a leading figure among Czech conductors. His career has led from a regular engagement with the Brno State Philharmonic, via the position of chief conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra and long years of collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic. He has made regular appearances as guest conductor with outstanding symphonic ensembles all over the world, such as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has urged the release of an Azeri national who has been granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. Professor Sadai Nazarov, an aide to the former Azeri prime minister Sarat Huseynov, fled to the Czech Republic in the mid 1990's after the regime of president Heydar Aliyev accused Huseynov of planning a coup. He was granted political asylum three years later. Nazarov was arrested in Azerbaijan several days ago on a visit to his homeland. The Czech Foreign Ministry has called for "a humanitarian approach and a speedy resolution to the case", stressing that Nazarov is under the Czech Republic's protection.
The United States has criticized the Czech military for buying an artillery radar and a mobile anti-aircraft missile complex without a tender. According to the daily Hospodarske Noviny the US embassy in Prague sent the Czech Defence Ministry a letter expressing concern about the purchases. A Defence Ministry spokesperson said the purchases had been made without a tender since the law on public orders did not require one. The choice was reportedly made on the recommendation of a team of experts.
Transparency International has called on the Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross to explain how he paid for his luxury flat in Prague. Recently the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes pointed out that Mr. Gross could not have purchased his luxury home from his own or his wife's income and urged the Prime Minister to say where he'd got the money. Despite considerable pressure from the media the Prime Minister has refused to disclose the source of his finances. Transparency said the open questions and speculation surrounding the case were damaging the whole Cabinet and adding to the perception of the Czech Republic as a country with a high rate of corruption.
A Czech delegation will join leaders from eight central and eastern European countries in Sofia, Bulgaria on Wednesday for a conference aimed at improving the life of the Roma minority in this part of the world. The meeting is an unprecedented effort to fight illiteracy, unemployment and isolation of one of Europe's largest minorities.
The parliamentary deputy Zdenek Koudelka has become the first politician to officially announce his candidature for the post of Social Democratic party vice chairman. The deadline for the registration of candidates is on Friday. Mr Koudelka is considered to be an ally of Labour Minister Zdenek Skromach, who is in competition with Prime Minister Stanislav Gross for the position of Social Democrat party chairman.
The Czech National Bank (CNB) announced on Monday that it posted a record loss of nearly 54 billion crowns in 2004 - nearly three times the loss of the previous year - due to the decline in the value of the central bank's foreign reverses, by over one-third. The reason for the loss is that the Czech currency has continued to firm in recent years not only against the weakening US dollar but also against the common European currency, the euro.
The former Czech president Vaclav Havel has again spoken out strongly against recent moves taken by the European Union to normalise diplomatic relations with Cuba. In an open letter published on Monday in a leading Czech daily, Mr Havel said that the EU had entered into a "shameful deal" that "spit on all the principles" of democracy and human rights espoused in the draft EU constitution. The EU froze diplomatic relations with Cuba in June 2003 after some 75 dissidents were arrested and sentenced to up to 28 years in prison. But in recent months, Cuba has re-established contacts with EU member states, after they agreed to stop inviting Cuban dissidents to official embassy events. The communist island nation first re-established contact with its closest ally, Spain, and finally with those most hostile to the Cuban regime: the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland, as well as the EU as a whole. Vaclav Havel, himself a former dissident who was imprisoned many times by communist officials, is the founder of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, an organisation that supports the families of Cuban dissidents.
Microsoft Corporation chairman Bill Gates will pay a one-day visit to Prague on Wednesday, where he will deliver a speech at the close of the Government Leaders Forum, a kind of talking shop for information and communication technology insiders and leading politicians, sponsored by the U.S. software giant. About a dozen current and former heads of government and European Commissioners are expected to attend. While in Prague, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is due to meet separately with Czech president Vaclav Klaus.
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