Detectives from the organised crime department of the Czech Police have uncovered what is likely one of the most prolific forgery gangs in Europe. A 61-year-old Czech woman and an Albanian have already been charged; another two foreigners from Britain and Romania will be charged in the coming days. The group, which may consist of more members, has allegedly been responsible for the forgery of at least several hundred documents. At least one of the members was bringing passports to Germany for Iranians who wanted to travel to Canada. Other documents forged by the group have been found in the UK and in Spain. Police began working on the case in May of last year and have involved other detectives from across Europe to find the suspects. If convicted they face up to ten years in prison.
The Czech lower house voted Wednesday to overhaul the current support system for renewable power, allowing feed-in tariffs to be cut by more than 5.0% from next year. Under the amendment, cuts of more than 5.0% will be allowed if a renewable facility pays back its investment costs in less than 11 years. The vote comes against the backdrop of a solar power boom in the Czech Republic, where feed-in tariffs are amongst the highest in Europe. Under the existing subsidy rules, the energy regulator cannot cut feed-in tariffs by more than 5.0 a year. But the regulator, the ERU, and government argue that investment costs for photovoltaic power have almost halved in recent years, sparking the Czech boom. The amendment still needs to be backed by the upper house, the Senate, but this is not expected to be a problem. Feed-in rates are subsidies paid by governments to producers of renewable energy.
President Václav Klaus has sharply criticised the high number of college institutions in the Czech Republic, calling it the greatest attack on the quality of higher learning since the post-war communist purges. Speaking at the 100th anniversary of the Žofin Forum, Mr Klaus said that a high number of college students in the Czech Republic did not mean higher quality education. Experts have also pointed out a problem of so-called “flying professors”, who teach at multiple schools. This problem has been addressed by an amendment to the college education act passed by parliament last week, which creates a register of which professors teach where. There are currently 73 college institutions in the Czech Republic, of which 45 are private, 26 are public and two are state-run.
The international human rights organisation Amnesty International has released a report stating that the Czech Republic and Germany are exporting products that are intended for torture. Amnesty says that the two countries have taken advantage of legal loopholes to permit the export of police equipment and coercive devices, such as shackles that give electric shocks, to at least nine countries where they are used for torture. According to the organisation’s report, these sales have continued in spite of EU-wide control measures adopted in 2006. The report is to be discussed in the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights on Thursday.
The Czech tennis player Nicole Vaidišová has retired at the age of 20, according to media reports. Vaidišová reached the semi-finals at two Grand Slam tournaments and in 2007 got as high as seventh in the world rankings. However, her career has been going downhill for some time and she is currently ranked 176th. One tennis website reported that Vaidišová, who is the girlfriend of Czech men’s number one Radek Štěpánek, was evidently tired of losing matches and had no desire to return to the court.
Police have arrested one of two men suspected of illegal involvement in the distribution of several billion crowns in EU funding. The men in question are head workers of the office of the Southwest Regional Council. Anticorruption police believe the two men influenced the selection of projects that were to benefit from several billion crowns in EU funding. At the behest of the police, the Ministry of Finance halted a nearly completed tender process for a series of public developmental projects in the Southwest region amounting to 3.8 billion crowns. A police raid of the office carried out at the end of last year did not result in any arrests. The charges of attempting to influence a public tender and damage the interests of the European Community carry sentences of up to 12 years imprisonment.
Czech scientists have discovered a potentially important method for curbing the growth of cancerous tumours. A team at the Institute of Molecular Genetics in Prague found that tumours force surrounding cells to provide them with proteins for their growth; stopping that process could also restrict the growth of the cancer cells. They have now patented their method and hope to find a pharmaceutical company that will invest in the production of a medicine. The method is the second promising result of cancer research in the country in the last year. In 2009 scientists at Prague’s Institute of Microbiology developed a substance that cuts off the access of tumours to a blood supply.
Cardinal Miroslav Vlk has addressed the recent wave of accusations of child abuse against the Catholic Church, saying that it is necessary to reanalyse the way priests are trained in sexual morality. Writing on his website, the head of the Czech Catholic Church called the alleged acts of abuse an offence to God and primarily a gross violation of the human dignity of helpless persons. He also concurred with the Vatican that the institution of celibacy is not to blame for the scandal. Czech priests have not been implicated in the new scandals, in which hundreds of allegations of child abuse have been raised against Catholic priests in six other European states. Cardinal Vlk wrote that in the 20 years of his leadership of the Diocese of Prague he has never received any word of a case of child abuse by a Church official.
Labour costs in the Czech Republic grew in the fourth quarter of 2009 by more than almost any other EU country. Eurostat reported on Wednesday that hourly labour costs in the country had gone up by up 5.4% compared to the same period in 2008. Only Bulgaria, Austria and Poland showed higher growth, with 11.3, 6.5 and 5.7%, respectively. Growth of labour costs was negative in the other countries for which there is information available, primarily in Lithuania, where it fell by nearly 11%. Eurostat showed the average growth in the EU at 2.4% and in the Euro-zone at 2.2% year on year.
The Ministry of Education has announced it is considering introducing Romany language classes in schools. The daily Lidové Noviny reported on Wednesday that the ministry hopes the classes would boost numbers of Romany pupils in normal primary schools, as they are often enrolled in special schools for children with disabilities. The classes would be optional and teachers would also deal with Romany culture and history. The paper wrote that experts agree that the introduction of Romany language classes in school would also have a positive influence on non-Roma children, who the ministry says it hopes would gain a betting understanding of the issues faced by their Roma classmates.