Police have charged the head of the Prague town hall preservation department Jan Knežinek with obstruction and neglect of his office. He faces demotion and up to three years in prison. The police reacted to a decision by the Plzeň Regional Authority, which on Tuesday announced that the City of Prague is to pay a 3.25 billion crown fine for damages that occurred during the repairs of Charles Bridge, The Regional Authority had been appointed by the Ministry of Culture to determine whether repairs of Prague’s Charles Bridge were devaluating the landmark status of the monument, after the City of Prague had failed to take action. The fine was based on damages to original blocks used in the bridge’s construction and the use of modern materials in the repair of the bridge, which is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The repairs were administered by the company Mott MacDonald, which was found not to be responsible for the damages.
Police president Oldřich Martinů said on Wednesday that investigations of possible corruption into the Pandur public tender awarded by the Czech Ministry of Defence so far have not produced any evidence supporting the corruption allegations. A special team of investigators has evaluated all available documents and information and a total of seven witnesses have been questioned. Although the investigation has not confirmed corruption allegations so far, it will continue. In February, the Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes suggested that members of the Ministry of Defence, which in 2008 had signed a 14.4 billion crown contract with the Austrian company Steyr to buy armoured personnel carriers, had earmarked two to three percent of the tender as kickbacks for the two strongest political parties. The report caused a scandal and some politicians called for far-reaching reforms that would create greater transparency of public tenders.
The Czech tennis player Tomáš Berdych beat world number one Roger Federer of Switzerland at the Miami Masters on Tuesday. Berdych saved a match point in a third set tie-break in the third round match to bring an eight-match losing streak against Federer to an end. The Czech had only beaten Federer once before, at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Berdych is seeded 16th in the tournament.
The deputy head of the Association of Czech Travel Agents, Tomio Okamura, has said he had been tentatively approached about taking up the post of human rights minister, Czech Television reported. However, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Jan Fischer said he had no knowledge of any such offer having been made. The Green Party, which nominated the previous holder of the human rights portfolio in the interim Czech government, also said it had no knowledge of the post being offered to Mr Okamura. Michael Kocáb recently stepped down as minister of human rights and minorities after the Greens said they would no longer support the caretaker cabinet. Mr Okamura, who was born in Japan, was recently in the news in connection with a project under which owners can send teddy bears and other toys on holiday in Prague and other cities.
On Wednesday, a district court in Prague sentenced a pharmacist to eight years in a high-security prison, in addition to a fine of three million crowns. The man, who is 50, was charged with selling over-the-counter medicines containing pseudo-ephedrine to customers who he knew were using the medicines as an ingredient in the illegal production of meta-amphetamine. The court estimates that the pharmacist sold roughly six million pills of the medicine to meta-amphetamine producers. The pharmacist denies having sold the pseudo-ephedrine containing drug Nurofen at all. At a court hearing in November, he claimed to not know that the medicine could be used in the production of illegal drugs.
In related news, the Czech army and air force are preparing for the upcoming visit to Prague by the US and Russian presidents. The Czech air force will be escorting the presidential planes to Prague airport. During the summit, which is set to take place at Prague Castle, Gripen fighters, police and army helicopters will be securing the air space. A spokeswoman for the Czech army said on Wednesday that the number of soldiers who will be on duty in the Czech capital during Mr. Obama’s visit will depend on the security demands of the summit’s organizers. Last year, more than 400 soldiers were involved in security operations on the occasion of Mr. Obama’s visit to Prague.
The TV channel National Geographic will introduce Czech-language broadcasts in April. The company announced on Wednesday that fresh programming and prime time shows will air in Czech, while repeats would still be shown in the original English language version with Czech subtitles. National Geographic plans to dub all new documentaries that are aired in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in Czech and is hoping to gradually increase the number Czech-language programs on its channel, which airs in 166 countries and 34 languages world-wide.
The Office of the President of the Czech Republic is preparing a possible amnesty to be granted to the former communist prosecutor Ludmila Brožová-Polednová, who at 87 is the country’s oldest prisoner, the Czech daily Lidové noviny reported on Wednesday. A spokesman for the office refused to comment on the claim. A regional court decided a month ago that Mrs. Brožová-Polednová, who is currently serving a six year prison sentence for her participation in the 1950s communist show trials, could be released as early as March next year under the terms of several previous presidential amnesties granted between 1953 and 1990. Her prosecutors appealed this verdict. The appeal went before the Prague High Court, which reached a decision last Wednesday but so far, the court has not made the verdict public.
The mass production of meta-amphetamine in illegal laboratories remains the biggest single problem faced by the Czech police when it comes to drug crime. The head of the police’s anti-drug force, Jakub Frydrych, told reporters on Tuesday the situation was partly caused by the availability of over-the-counter medicines containing pseudo-ephedrine, which is used to make meta-amphetamine. Mr Frydrych said the Czech Republic continued to be Europe’s biggest producer of the drug; he added that the difficulty of securing convictions was a bigger issue than the actual number of illegal labs. Last year 314 labs were uncovered by the police; in 2008 the figure was 434.
As well as signing a new arms reduction treaty with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, US President Barack Obama is likely also to hold bilateral talks with European leaders on a planned visit to Prague next week, the Czech News Agency reported. The American and Russian presidents are expected to sign a new version of a treaty reducing their nuclear arsenals in the city on Thursday. US State Department official Philip Crowley said he expected that both Mr Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would also hold a series of bilateral discussions with European and central European officials in Prague, adding that a list of who would take part was currently being drawn up. President Obama returns to the Czech capital almost exactly a year after making a key speech on nuclear weapons in front of large crowds at Prague Castle.
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