A Prague policeman has been charged, alongside one other individual, with extortion, Czech state attorneys announced on Monday. The policeman is charged with handing personal data pertaining to a Prague businessman to another individual, who then tried to blackmail the businessman for millions of crowns. On Monday, a police spokesperson said that the two arrested could face between two and eight years in prison if found guilty. The policeman faces charges of abuse of public office and abuse of personal data, while the second individual, who passed himself off as a policeman, faces charges of extortion.
At the end of July, the Czech state was running a deficit of 76.2 billion crowns (4.04 billion USD), which is nearly double the deficit approved in the budget for the whole of 2009. At this time last year, the Czech state was 9.3 billion crowns (518 million USD) in the black, according to the Finance Ministry, which released the new statistics on Monday. This year’s budget, as approved by Parliament, envisages a deficit of 38.3 billion crowns. According to Finance Minister Eduard Janota, however, the economic crisis has meant that a deficit of around 165 billion crowns is now expected in 2009.
On Monday, the Health Ministry said that 12 new cases of swine flu had been registered in the Czech Republic, bringing the total number of cases in this country to 116. Seven of the 12 infected were in Prague, a ministry spokesperson said, while a further two were in the region of Hradec Kralové, East Bohemia. All of the new cases were registered in people returning to the Czech Republic from abroad, notably Great Britain, the United States, Spain and Greece. None of the cases were said to be ‘serious’ according to the ministry spokesperson, and all of the patients were expected to make a full recovery with the aid of antivirals.
Car production fell in the Czech Republic by 11 percent in the first half of 2009, according to industry figures released on Monday. The reason given for the decrease was the current global financial crisis. According to the Czech Carmakers’ Association, the fall would have been much sharper if it weren’t for the scrap incentives introduced in neighbouring Germany and Slovakia, encouraging car owners to trade in their old vehicle for a newer model. The Czech Republic’s biggest car producer, Škoda Auto, made just under 246,000 cars in the first half of this year, which constituted a 30 percent decrease year-on-year. The TPCA car factory in Kolín, however, recorded an increase in production by 0.6 percent to nearly 175,000 cars over the same period.
Rudolf Jelínek, one of this country’s biggest distillers, recorded a 13 percent year-on-year drop in profits in the first half of 2009. The distiller’s earnings in the first six months of this year amounted to nearly 166 million crowns, it was announced on Monday. According to a spokesperson for the company, Zdeněk Chromý, the firm sold some 2.5 million bottles of spirits in the first six months of this year - in 2008, sales from January-July amounted to more than 3 million bottles. The distillers Rudolf Jelínek are famous for their plum brandy, Slivovice, but also for Borovička, which is made with pine needles and Hruškovice, which is made with pears.
If elections were held tomorrow they would be won by the centre-right Civic Democrats with a lead of 8.6 percent over the second-placed Social Democrats, suggests a poll conducted by the University of Olomouc’s political studies department. According to the poll, the Czech Communist Party, the newly-formed party TOP 09 and the Christian Democrats would also gain more than the five percent of the vote necessary to make it into Parliament. Those behind the poll said that, in light of their results, the Civic Democrats would be able to secure an overall majority in the lower house if they entered into a coalition with the Christian Democrats and Top 09.
A young Romanian Roma boy who was seriously ill in hospital has died, a spokesperson for Prague’s Vinohrady Infirmary said on Monday. Around 50 of the 17-year-old’s relatives traveled from Romania to hold a vigil for him after he drowned when swimming outside of Prague two weeks ago. The boy was said to be the ‘prince’ of an extended Roma family, many members of which came to be by his bedside following the accident. His relatives were camping on private land near the River Vltava after moving out of a Prague campsite last week. Over the weekend, the municipality in which the Roma were camping – Husinec – called on the police to move the Roma on.
The Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer has criticised the Justice Minister Daniela Kovářová for making changes at the ministry that exceed her mandate, the newspaper Právo reported on Monday. Mr Fischer sent Ms Kovářová a letter, which Právo said it gained access to on Monday, criticizing the justice minister’s decision to change about personnel at the ministry. Ms Kovářová is part of Mr Fischer’s interim government of technocrats, which is tiding the Czech Republic over until early elections in October. As such, Mr Fischer is reported to be unhappy with Ms Kovářová’s decision to make changes at the top of the Justice Ministry. Ms Kovářová has replaced several of her deputies in the last couple of months, Právo reports. On Monday, a spokesperson for the ministry confirmed that Ms Kovářová had been sent a letter by the prime minister, but said that this letter remained unopened, as the minister was currently away on holiday.
Meanwhile, the Czech national carrier, Czech Airlines, has said that it plans to lay off 860 of its employees by March 2010. On Monday, company spokesperson Hana Hejsková confirmed that the airline was planning mass redundancies. Czech Airlines currently employ 4,600 people. Most of the redundancies will be on the administrative side of operations, though pilots, mechanics and cabin crew will also be let go, Ms Hejsková added. The spokeswoman said that ČSA informed unions of their decision on Monday, she added that the number of lay-offs may in the end be less than 860. Czech Airlines is already canceling some of its routes to cut costs. The company is currently undergoing privatization. in the second quarter of this year, it made a loss of 1.3 billion crowns (73 million USD).
The leader of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats says he does not intend to provide proof to back up his assertion that the Social Democrats had him followed on a recent trip to Italy. Mirek Topolánek accused his main rivals of dirty tricks after paparazzi-style photos of him meeting influential lobbyists and business people appeared in the Czech media. He told reporters on Sunday it was sufficient to be aware of a link between the centre-left Social Democrats and Karel Randák, a former intelligence chief who admits to having provided the press with the pictures. The Social Democrats, whose own Milan Urban also appeared in the photos, have denied being behind them.
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