A Prague appeals court this week upheld a five-year jail sentence against former Czech Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda, who has become the first government minister sent to prison since the fall of communism in 1989. Both he and his one-time adviser, Barbora Snopkova, were convicted in March of siphoning nearly $250,000 from the accounts of the Liberta baby-carriage producer, while one the company's board between 1996 and 1998.
Social benefits for the long-term unemployed will be reduced next year, from the current 4,300 crowns per month to 2,870, the equivalent of about 125 US dollars. The cuts are part of a government plan introduced this week that is looking to motivate people to choose work over welfare. Housing allowances will be increased somewhat to offset the social benefits cut.
Inner London, at 315 percent of the European Union average, is the richest of the 37 "regions" in the EU. According to a study by the official statistical agency Eurostat, the vast majority of the poorest regions are within the new EU member states. The Czech capital Prague, which reached 153 percent of the EU average in 2002, was the only region in "new Europe" to exceed 125 percent of the EU average. At 32 percent of the EU average, Lubelskie, in eastern Poland, was ranked the poorest region overall.
Slower growth, easing inflation pressure and budget concerns will characterize future economic development in most new European Union member states, according to a new report by the World Bank. The report said most new EU members, including the Czech Republic, have sufficiently tight 2005 budgets, but weak popular support and upcoming elections have slowed reform efforts.
The Czech Union of Brewers and Malt Houses has asked the Ministry of Agriculture to help end the so-called "Real beer" advertisements launched by Budejovicky Budvar, the only major Czech brewery still in state hands. The Union claims that Budvar's campaign, under the banner "Ten commandments of bona fide Czech beer," indirectly — and unfairly — accuses other Czech brewers of skimping on quality.
Toyota of Japan and French carmakers PSA Peugeot Citroen are set to begin production at their joint-venture plant in the Czech town of Kolin by the end of February. The plant, called TPCA, will be able eventually to produce 300,000 cars a year, most of which will be sold in Western Europe. At a cost of nearly 1.7 billion US dollars, the factory is among the biggest foreign investments in central Europe to date. Analyst Pavel Sobisek of HVB said this week that TPCA's exports should help bring the Czech Republic's trade deficit "close to zero."
The German petrol station company Aral announced this week that it is planning to leave the Czech market by the end of the year, and is looking to sell all 70 of its Czech stations. There are over 2,100 petrol stations in the Czech Republic; every fourth one is foreign owned. Austrian newspapers have speculated that Aral's chain will be sold to OMV.
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