31-07-2003

Special financial police unit to be set up

Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross announced this week they were seeking to create a new financial police squad with considerable powers. The 250-member unit would concentrate on large-scale tax fraud, and would be able to examine tax declarations without obtaining the permission of a judge. The special force should begin operations in July of next year.

Police say Pirate of Prague now regarded as fugitive

Viktor Kozeny, the man at the centre of one of the biggest privatisation scandals of the 1990s, was charged this week with fraud. Police said Mr Kozeny and his former business partner Boris Vostry had avoided all attempts to deliver the charges over the last two years and would be treated as fugitives. Mr Kozeny has Irish citizenship and lives in the Bahamas; Mr Vostry lives in Belize. Mr Kozeny, former director of Harvard Investment Funds, is accused of defrauding investors of some 11 billion crowns between 1995 and 1997. The money belonged to Czechs who had invested in former state enterprises during the privatisation process.

Important mines sell-off due for later this year

The government is planning to sell the state's shares in two large mining companies in north Bohemia this year, the industry and trade minister, Milan Urban, announced on Wednesday. The state is hoping to receive between 3 and 3.5 billion crowns for its 55 percent stake in Severoceske doly, and between 2.5 and 3 billion crowns for its 49 percent stake in Sokolovska uhelna. The sell-off should be the first privatisation undertaken by the cabinet of Vladimir Spidla.

Campaign aims to encourage Czechs to holiday at home

The Czech Tourist Authority this week launched a campaign to encourage Czechs to holiday in this country. The organisation's director David Gladis said that while 1.5 million people will spend their main holiday in the Czech Repubilc this year, up to four and a half million will holiday abroad. The tourist authority is planning a campaign called "Beautiful Country" to encourage Czechs to spend more of their vacations at home. Of the five countries most visited by Czechs, Slovakia is the cheapest.

Falkon Capital to recover Russia's Soviet-era debt to Czech Republic

It was reported this week that the government decided in April to accept an offer made by Falkon Capital to recover Russia's Soviet-era debts to the Czech Republic. Under the company's offer, it guarantees to pay 30% (around 4.5 billion Czech crowns) of Russia's remaining debt to the state.

Rents falling in Prague

The market in rents has stabilised in the Czech Republic and is falling in the capital Prague, the daily MLADA FRONTA DNES reported this week. Rents have been falling most at the luxury end of the market, though in Prague rents have also declined in older apartment buildings and prefabricated blocks of flats. The decline is attributed to the number of flats being built - 2,000 a year in Prague - and the availability of attractive mortgages.

No bidders for Telecom at the moment, says IT Minister Mlynar

The minister for information technology, Vladimir Mlynar, has said there are currently no bidders interested in buying Czech Telecom. Mr Mlynar attributed the lack of interest to a down-turn in the telecommunications market, which has led to reluctance to expand. He said it would be a good result if Czech Telecom was sold before 2005. The government last attempted to sell Telecom last autumn though the deal fell through when a consortium of Deutsche Bank and Tele Denmark pulled out after a dispute over the sale price.

UMTS licenses could be paid off year later

Minister Mlynar also said that one option as regards a possible agreement between the state and mobile operators about the premature payoff of third generation UMTS licenses would be to extend the introduction deadline by a year, until January 2006. It would be necessary to ensure that any changes made to the license conditions could not be challenged by Cesky Mobil, said Mr Mlynar.

Pilot "e-government" project to be launched in October

And Vladimir Mlynar has been a busy man this week: the IT minister said on Wednesday that an "e-government" pilot project would be launched at the end of October. The Office of the Government, the IT Ministry and other state offices are taking part in the project, which aims to accelerate internet communication between citizens and the state. It is also intended to save some five million crowns a year on the printing and copying of documents. Mr Mlynar said a commission would propose a date for the actual launch of the project by the end of the year.

Three licenses to be issued for fixed wireless access network in Prague

The Czech Telecommunications Office is to issue three licenses for a fixed wireless access network in Prague. The broadband network would allow operators to compete with Czech Telecom in data transfer, telephoning and internet access, a spokesman for the office said on Tuesday.

31-07-2003