Two Hungarian men were sentenced to 18 months in prison and expulsion from the Czech Republic for human trafficking. The sentence was handed out by the Tachov regional court on Wednesday. The two were found on the main motorway leading to Germany with 76 people, mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, in a lorry last summer. The state prosecutor said the sentence would be appealed because it was too low. The two Hungarians are likely to be sent to Germany where they also face criminal proceedings.
Minister of Finance and ANO leader Andrej Babiš is taking part in a special session of the lower house of parliament on Wednesday called to explain the circumstance surrounding his Stork’s Nest farm and conference centre. Babiš has been under the spotlight for more than a week over allegations that the project received 50 million crowns in European funds that should have been destined for small and medium sized firms. At one stage the project was owned by Babiš’ massive agro-chemical group Agrofert but the ownership later changed. The ANO leader described the affair as a manipulated campaign against him. He said Agrofert paid Czech tax and received back a sixth of the funds back it paid in tax. He added that he had given his charity foundation 50 million crowns in extra funding. Babis finally declared that the farm at the time of the EU grants was owned by his grown up daughters and the brother of his partner, Monika.
Members of the lower house of parliament have voted against offering visa free travel to citizens from Turkey. Visa free travel for Turks to the EU was part of the agreement sealed between EU leaders and Turkey regarding the immigration crisis last week. Among those voting against visa free travel were lawmakers from the Social Democrat, ANO, and Christian Democrat parties which formed a majority with the opposition. The vote is a blow to Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka but is not binding on the Cabinet. The motion also rejected accepting quotas of refugees.
The head of the Czech Football Association, Miroslav Pelta, admitted Wednesday that plans for a new national football stadium were dead. Speculation about a new stadium revived again in the Autumn. The most significant Czech national games should be played at Prague’s Eden stadium, the home of Slavia Prague, Pelta said. Means of increasing the existing capacity of 21,000 at the country’s most modern stadium are being explored, he added. Pelta said talks over a new main partner for the association should be completed in April. Speculation has risen that a Chinese link-up will be declared.
A series of Czech officials have been given jail and conditional sentences in connection with the fraudulent use of EU funds by a court on Wednesday. The top official, the former director of funding in the North-West region, Petr Kusnierz, was sentenced to seven years for fraud and influencing where funds were channelled. A former deputy governor of the Ústí nad Labem was given a three year suspended sentence. Four others accused were given suspended sentences or acquitted. Kusnierz’s sentenced was combined with a previous condition sentence for taking bribes. One example of the fraud permitted was the payment of funds for a new floor of a hotel in Most which had already been completed.
Associations of pharmacists and dentists have called in an open letter for a meeting with Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. They are angered that talks so far about conditions in the health sector have only involved doctors. The head of the pharmacists’ chamber say the problems are generalised with payments still too low for the services that his members offer and ongoing uncertainty about the proportion of payments made by patients. Doctors called at the start of March for wages in the health sector to climb by 30 percent over the next three years.
Chinese investment group CEFC is prepared to take a sizeable shareholder stake in Czech Internet holiday sales company Invia.cz, the daily newspaper Dnes reported on Wednesday. Vice-president of CEFC, Marcela Hrdá, said a stake of up to 90 percent could be taken but current owner Rockaway would probably keep a 50 percent shareholding. The purchase appears to be part of a wider strategy where Chinese tourists would be transport to the Czech Republic, hosted in local hotels, and transported on to other European destinations.
A memorial to the parents of the so-called Winton children, whose lives were saved when they were sent abroad from Czechoslovakia to escape almost certain death under the Nazis, is likely to be erected at Prague’s main railway station. Czech Radio reported that the project already appears to have the backing of Czech Railways. A statue to Sir Nicholas Winton, who organised the transports of 669, mostly Jewish children, ahead of WWII, already stands at the station. Sir Nicholas Winton died in July last year.
Unable to find qualified locals, Czech firms are keen to hire plumbers, welders, fitters and machinists from Ukraine, iDnes.cz reported on Wednesday. There is such a shortage in some areas that companies are willing to overlook the language barrier, the news website said. A draft government project to attract Ukrainian employees has only been targeted at university graduates but may be amended. The vice president of the Czech Chamber of Commerce said without Ukrainians some Czech firms would be unable to fulfill their orders and collapse.
The Czech government has confirmed that the country is on the first level of security alert in the wake of Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels. The first level of alert is the lowest of three recently codified by the government. After a cabinet meeting on Tuesday night, the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said ministers had agreed to deploy up to 550 soldiers for a period of two months. Security was increased at Czech airports and on the Prague Metro system shortly after the attacks in Brussels, which left more than 30 people dead. Officials said they had no information to suggest the Czech Republic was facing any similar threat.
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