Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is under fire from the opposition for the way
his cabinet is handling preparations for the country’s next EU presidency
The opposition Civic Democrats claim the prime minister is underestimating the opportunities the EU presidency affords and has failed to consult his cabinet’s plans and priorities with the opposition.
They are also critical of the fact that the government slashed the budget for the country’s EU presidency from the proposed 2.6 billion to 1.2 billion crowns. The country’s last EU presidency, ten years ago, cost 3.7 billion.
In an interview for Czech Television, Prime Minister Babiš countered that the institutions involved in preparations have hidden reserves and said he would make known his plans in due time. The prime minister said the presidency’s priorities would most likely be energy and the single market.
Prague’s High Court has confirmed not guilty sentence on three civil servants but stiffened sentences on a series of businessmen involved in the so-called Promopro case that marred the Czech Republic’s EU presidency at the start of 2009. The Promopro company was awarded a highly lucrative contract to perform audio visual services for the Czech Republic during the presidency without any competitive tender. One of the businessmen involved was given a three-and-a-half year sentence where he had only had a suspended sentence. The highest penalty was a prison sentence of nine years.
Sentences of up to nine years have been handed down in the so-called Promopro affair, in which a company charged excessive sums for audiovisual services provided to the Czech government during it EU presidency at the start of 2009. The stiffest penalty of nine years was handed down to one of the Promopro company bosses, Jaroslav Veselý, with one of the firm’s main sub-contractors getting the same sentence. They were found guilty of fraud as well as laundering dirty money. Sentences of not guilty were delivered on three government officials involved in organized the EU presidency. The sentences can still be appealed.
The tax authorities have fined the Office of the Government more than half a billion crowns for paying an excessively high sum to a company for audiovisual services during the Czech presidency of the EU in 2009, Právo reported on Wednesday. The Office of the Government is considering appealing, the newspaper said. An official told Czech Television the fine could prove fatal to the institution, as it was many times its annual budget. Investigators said the company ProMoPro had received over CZK 380 million more than it should have for the provision of audiovisual services. No tender was held for the contract. Twelve people have been charged in connection with the matter.
The Czech government wants to join the criminal prosecution in the ongoing case involving the company Promopro which won a controversial public order for the supply of audio-visual equipment during the Czech EU presidency in 2009. The state is claiming 338 million crowns in damages, the amount by which the order was allegedly overpriced. The suspects have been charged with scheming in a public tender and auction, abuse of power and breach of trust. Alexander Vondra, who was responsible for the preparation of the Czech EU presidency and who was defence minister in 2010-2012, has not been charged.
The police have arrested five people in an ongoing investigation of the
ProMoPro case in which at least 135 million was embezzled during the
country’s EU president in 2009, the news website E15 reported on
Wednesday citing confidential sources. Among those arrested is Jaroslav
Veselý, the owner of the ProMoPro which provided audiovisual and
interpreting services to the Czech government, as well as several of the
firm’s subcontractors; they face charges of embezzlement and money
laundering along with four other people who have not been taken into
The case might have political implications as the ProMoPro deal was overseen by then EU affairs minister, and the current Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, of the Civic Democrats, who in the passed faced pressure to resign over the scandal.
In today’s business news: The Czech antimonopoly watchdog launches a probe into the controversial Promopro contract, industrial production in the Czech Republic has grown by 15.2 percent year-on-year, the average cost of purchasing a vehicle continues to drop, former president Václav Havel features in new ad campaign for the used car dealer AAA Auto, and the Karlovy Vary airport will get a new departure hall.
The opposition Social Democratic Party are seeking signatures in order to call for another special meeting of Parliament to discuss the ProMoPro case, in which exorbitant sums were allegedly paid to an audiovisual company from the office of current defence Minister Alexandr Vondra during the Czech EU presidency in 2009. One such meeting was recently proposed but was blocked by the coalition parties. This time, the TOP 09 party, unsatisfied with Mr Vondra’s explanations on that occasion, has said they will not attend the vote on the proposal, thus allowing the opposition a sufficient majority to table the programme. Mr Vondra has accepted partial responsibility for the affair, but his role in it has remained a source of coalition infighting in recent weeks.
The Civic Democratic Party leadership has thrown its weight behind the
embattled defense minister Alexander Vondra, who is under fire over his
role in a questionable deal relating to the country’s EU presidency when
he was in charge of the EU portfolio. According to the internet daily
Lidovky.cz Prime Minister Petr Necas himself stood up in Mr. Vondra’s
defense, swinging the balance in his favour and securing support for his
continued presence in the cabinet.
Although Mr. Vondra claims he did not know about the dubious terms of the contract which allegedly cost taxpayers millions of crowns, he has come under a barrage of criticism over the scandal with the two smaller parties in government TOP 09 and Public Affairs calling for his resignation and distancing themselves from what they call the Civic Democrats' shame.
Former prime minister Jan Fischer, who led a caretaker government halfway through the Czech EU presidency in 2009, has said he would “definitely run” for the post of Czech president in 2013 if the country’s politicians succeed in introducing direct presidential elections. Mr Fischer, currently Vice President for Operational Policies at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), made the statement speaking to Parlamentní listy in Prague on Monday. Current President Václav Klaus’ second and final term ends in 2013. As prime minister, Mr Fischer enjoyed highly favourable numbers among the public, polls repeatedly suggested. The current government is presently working on a proposal to change the presidential election system, a move also being sought by the opposition Social Democrats. Negotiations on the issue, however, could well prove difficult, given differences on voting methods as well as over potential changes to presidential powers. Currently the country’s president is elected every five years in a joint session of both houses of Parliament.