No-shows hamper commission investigating fate of OKD

A parliamentary commission has begun investigating the controversial sell-off and subsequent collapse of coal company OKD. However, the investigation has got off to a poor start, with no-shows from several of the witnesses that MPs have called for questioning.

Photo: archive of OKDPhoto: archive of OKD A special parliamentary commission has been set up to look into one of the most controversial sell-offs of recent decades, the privatisation of the OKD coal mining company. It began in the 1990s and came to a conclusion in 2004. The firm later went bankrupt.

Two months ago a court threw out charges against three men accused of undervaluing the state’s asset to the tune of CZK 5.7 billion when it was sold to the company Karbon Invest for CZK 4.1 billion crowns.

Now MPs have invited 27 witnesses to give testimony as they attempt to establish how the state came to lose control of OKD and what followed.

However, commission members may find it difficult to make headway. Many former politicians and others who have been invited to speak before the commission will evidently not be doing so.

Former Social Democrat prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka – finance minister at the time of the sell-off – excused himself from proceedings.

Zdeněk Bakala, whose RPG Industries purchased Karbon Invest just months after the sell-off, and then Social Democrat industry minister Milan Urban did not take possession of their summonses.

MEP Pavel Telička, who in the past worked for firms controlled by Mr. Bakala, has also refused to participate. He says this is in part because he respects the country’s constitutional order.

Pavel Telička, photo: Jan Bartoněk / Czech RadioPavel Telička, photo: Jan Bartoněk / Czech Radio “The second reason is I didn’t figure in any way at all in the privatisation. At that time I was an official in the state administration. Like any other citizen, I only have second-hand information on the privatisation. In addition, I was never a member of an OKD statutory body.”

However, there has been some confusion surrounding the form of Pavel Telička’s refusal. The chairman of the investigative commission, Lukáš Černohorský of the Czech Pirate Party, says it is unclear from a letter sent by the MEP.

“We’re looking into the question of whether Mr. Telička has excused himself or is refusing to provide testimony. If it is the former, we can organise another date and time for him. If he has refused to provide testimony as a witness, it will have legal consequences for him… The aim of the commission is to investigate the whole history of the OKD case and how the fall of OKD came about.”

The majority of the commission members present at Monday morning’s first session voted to hold their investigation in camera.

When they eventually draw conclusions the deputies will turn their findings over to the Czech law enforcement authorities.