Shareholders in the Czech energy giant ČEZ decided at a general meeting on Wednesday to buy back up to ten percent of the company’s share capital. Management of Central Europe’s largest electricity producer proposed to buy back up to 53.8 million shares in the next 18 months at prices ranging from 300 CZK (18.8 USD) to 2,000 CZK (126 USD) apiece. It was also decided at the meeting that the firm would pay a record dividend of 40 CZK (2.5 USD) per share before taxes from last year’s record profits. It is thought the Czech state will receive around 15.2 billion CZK (955 million USD) from the payout.
The number of Czechs traveling to the United Kingdom in order to find work is falling, suggest statistics released by the British Home Office on Tuesday. In 2007, the number of Czechs to register at the Czech Embassy in London totaled 7,380, down from nearly 8,400 the previous year. At its peak, in 2005, over 10,000 Czechs traveled to Britain in search of employment. Unofficial estimates from the British employment register suggest that around 35,000 Czechs are currently living and working in the British Isles. It is thought that many are returning back to their homeland because of the strengthening of the Czech crown against the British pound, and the rise in living standards in the Czech Republic.
On Wednesday, the Czech government said that it recognised Kosovo’s independence and planned to establish diplomatic relations with Pristina. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told journalists that he believed this step would help achieve long-term stability and democratic development in the region. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, the country’s independence has been recognized by most EU member states, with the exception of Spain, Slovakia and Greece.
An artist who replaced the pictures of the red and green men at over 50 sets of traffic lights was found guilty of vandalism on Wednesday and fined 60,000 CZK (3,770 USD). David Brudňák replaced the traditional images of red and green men with pictures of women in skirts, hangmen and men urinating. The Prague 7 court which ruled on the verdict also ordered Mr Brudňák to pay the city council nearly 82,000 CZK (5,150 USD) in damages. Mr Brudňák is thought to work under the pseudonym of Roman Týc, he is also thought to be a member of the controversial Ztohoven group of artists, who made the headlines last June when they hijacked a Czech Television show to display images of a nuclear bomb blast.
The number of individuals under investigation for corruption in a case involving a manipulated tender at the Czech Defence Ministry has grown to 35, reported Mladá fronta Dnes on Wednesday. The accused allegedly attempted to influence the outcome of a tender for the operation of military and construction offices in the town of Litoměřice, North Bohemia in a deal worth hundred of millions of crowns. It is alleged that construction firms built redundant facilities for the Czech army with the approval of Defence Ministry employees. The investigation continues, those found guilty could face up to 15 years in prison.
Local councilors in the north Bohemian region of Liberec have said that they are firmly against proposals to change the Czech-Polish border in the region, ceding some 43 hectares of land to Poland. Dispute over the Czech-Polish border dates back to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, with Poland insisting that it lost 69 hectares of land in the process. Land compensation has been paid by the Czechs, but the dispute flared up again with the fall of communism in 1989. Governors in the Liberec region have said that they are unwilling to hand over the land in question because they fear the environmental consequences. They worry that an existing coal-burning plant on the Polish side of the border would expand, moving closer to the north Bohemian town of Kunratice.
In more business news, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has said that the government is not prepared to sell Prague airport for less than 100 billion CZK (6.3 billion USD). In an interview with the free daily newspaper E15, Mr Kalousek said that he would strongly recommend the government not to sell the airport to anyone offering under that price. But analysts have said that the sum is about the maximum price that the facility could possibly be sold for. Prague airport is the largest of the companies the government is hoping to privatise by the year 2010. The Finance Ministry’s financial advisors, Credit Suisse, have recommended the government sell the airport directly and to one investor.
An Australian court has ruled that six-year-old Tereza Vichnarová, who was kidnapped and flown to Australia by her father, should be returned to her mother’s care. Tereza disappeared at Easter during a long weekend with her father and was flown out of Europe before her mother reported her failure to return home. As Tereza’s father did not break Australian law through his actions, the Czech authorites were helpless, but the girl’s mother flew to Australia and fought a legal battle to have Tereza returned to her care. Mother and daughter are expected to return to the Czech Republic in the next few days.
The former head of the Czechoslovak armed forces General Miroslav Vacek has said that nuclear weapons were installed in communist Czechoslovakia in 1969. General Vacek said that the nuclear warheads were stored at Soviet-controlled military sites in Mišov, Bílina and Ralsko and were fully in Soviet hands. The general claimed that although the Soviets and the Americans had an agreement not to give their allies access to nuclear weapons in peacetime both superpowers had nuclear weapons on standby – the Soviets in Czechoslovakia, the United States in what was then West Germany.
Almost 900,000 tourists visited Prague in the first three months of this year, said the Czech Statistical Office on Wednesday. Visitor numbers are up eight percent on those recorded in the same period last year. The number of overnight stays in the capital grew by 6.8 percent in the first quarter. The average duration of visitors’ stays was 2.7 days. The highest number of tourists came from Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia.