Former StB agent Pavel Minařík had his sentence for fraud increased from 4.5 to six years by the High Court in Olomouc on Tuesday. Mr Minařík gained notoriety in the 1970s, when it was revealed that he was a Czech communist spy at the US-funded Radio Free Europe headquarters in Munich. He was sentenced to a jail term in March of this year after being found guilty of defrauding insurance company Kooperativa to the tune of tens of millions of crowns. In 1996, Mr Minařík claimed insurance on a load of fibreoptics he was delivering to Ukraine which were destroyed en route by fire. It later turned out that Mr Minařík had been behind the fire himself, and overvalued the cargo deliberately. On Tuesday, the High Court in Olomouc lengthened his sentence and ordered the former secret agent to start serving his prison term with immediate effect.
The government approved a draft budget for 2010 on Tuesday with a deficit of 163 billion crowns (9.4 billion USD). The deficit amounts to around 5.2 percent of GDP, economists have said. The original budget deficit was expected to be much higher until MPs approved a package of austerity measures in Parliament last week, raising some taxes and cutting state employees’ pay. The draft budget must now be submitted to Parliament for final approval. According to news agency ČTK, a vote on next year’s budget could take place any time after December 9.
The Finance Ministry would like to delay a decision on the privatisation of state carrier Czech Airlines, Hospodářské noviny reported on Tuesday. Ministry official Tomáš Uvíra told the paper that those overseeing the privatisation would like until October 20, a fortnight more than scheduled, to make a final decision on the airline’s future. The deadline for bids remains September 30, the newspaper reports. On Tuesday afternoon, Finance Minister Eduard Janota said that a decision on the privatisation would be made in around 14 days. According to the Ministry’s Tomáš Uvíra, the Finance Ministry would like more time not only to assess the single bid for the airline, made by a consortium of Unimex-Travel Service, but to restructure the troubled airline, which announced record losses earlier this year.
Two senior Communist MPs resigned from their posts in the party leadership on Tuesday in connection with a cash-for-influence scandal which came to light last week. Jiří Dolejš and Čeněk Milota resigned from their positions as deputy heads of the Communist Party after newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes claimed they were willing to push for changes in a draft bill on gambling in return for one million crowns (57,900 USD) in cash. Mr Dolejš told reporters after resigning from his function that he had no plans to resign as an MP. On Tuesday, the Christian Democrats accepted their general secretary Jiří Stodůlka’s resignation in connection with the scandal. Former Christian Democrat and prospective TOP 09 candidate Ladislav Šustr said he would no longer run in next spring’s general elections after being implicated in the scandal.
Some of émigré author Milan Kundera’s critical work made its Czech debut in the country’s Senate on Tuesday, after the author translated several of his essays from French for a special debate. At the request of the debate’s organizers, the 80-year-old author translated some excerpts from his works L’Art du roman especially for the occasion. Mr Kundera is known to have a sometimes strained relationship with his homeland and many of his more recent works have yet to appear in Czech. At the ‘European Milan Kundera’ Seminar, which started at the Czech Senate on Tuesday, those present discussed the way in which the world-famous novelist’s texts depicted Europe as a cultural and political entity.
A group of senators handed a complaint about the EU’s reforming Lisbon treaty to the Czech Constitutional Court on Tuesday afternoon. The move is expected to delay ratification of the reform document in the Czech Republic by anything between three and nine months. The Czech Republic is already amongst the last European states to ratify Lisbon; besides the Czechs, only Ireland and Poland are yet to approve the document. Opponents of the Constitutional Court complaint say the move could damage the Czech Republic’s standing in Europe, while senators responsible for bringing the complaint say that Lisbon encroaches upon Czech sovereignty and could be at odds with Czech national law. The Constitutional Court has already reviewed several controversial passages of the treaty at the request of right-wing senators. Last autumn it ruled that these articles were in line with Czech law. This time the court will be examining the entire reform document. Head of the court, Pavel Rychetský, called an extraordinary plenary session on Tuesday afternoon to get discussion of Lisbon underway.
The Czech economy is set to shrink by 0.5 percent in 2010, Finance Minister Eduard Janota said on Tuesday. Last week, Mr Janota predicted a 0.3 percent contraction in the Czech economy next year. At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr Janota said that he had revised his estimates as the government’s draft budget for 2010 had been altered slightly over the past week. The budget deficit was now predicted to be slightly larger than expected, amounting to some 5.5 percent of GDP. In the last week, the Czech National Bank has predicted a growth rate of 0.7 percent in 2010, while trade unions have said they expect the economy to shrink by up to two percent.
The state attorney for Prague 1 has dropped all charges against former Ku-klux-klan leader David Duke, his lawyer in the Czech Republic, Klára Slámová, said on Tuesday. Mr Duke was arrested on a visit to Prague in April and charged with denying the Holocaust. Following his departure from the Czech Republic, police brought further charges against Mr Duke, this time on grounds of inciting behaviour which infringed other people’s human rights. On Tuesday, his lawyer Ms Slámová said that all investigation into Mr Duke had been stopped. Ms Slámová added that the charges were dropped as there was not enough evidence to substantiate any of the claims.
Former Czech Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil has been appointed the caretaker dean of the Law Faculty at the West Bohemian University in Plzeň. Mr Pospíšil, a former student at the university, replaces Jaroslav Zachariáš who quit last week. Mr Zachariáš offered no explanation for his resignation on Friday, which came amidst a high-profile plagiarism scandal at the university. The vice-dean Ivan Tomažič was accused of having plagiarized large sections of his postgraduate dissertation last week. He subsequently resigned. The incident is being investigated by Plzeň police who are considering bringing charges against Mr Tomažič for theft of other people’s intellectual property. Mr Pospíšil said he planned large-scale changes in the faculty’s management over the coming months.
Head of the Civic Democrats Mirek Topolánek met president of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels on Tuesday and warned after the meeting that if the Czech Republic failed to ratify the Lisbon treaty, the country could be left without a European commissioner for the next five years. Mr Topolánek said that he would stake his ‘political future’ on the ratification of the EU reform document in the Czech Republic. On Wednesday, leader of the Czech Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek will also meet Mr Barroso to discuss nominations for the Czech Republic’s next euro-commissioner. It is thought that the Social Democrats would like current Czech EU commissioner Vladimír Špidla to remain in office for the next five years. The Civic Democrats are thought to favour either former European Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra, or Mr Topolánek himself, for the commission post.