06-11-2001

Tuesday's headlines have been dominated by news of Czech police intensifying their investigation into the business activities of Czech media magnate Vladimir Zelezny. On Monday police charged Mr Zelezny's personal lawyer and close associate Ales Rozehnal with fraud, for his role in Zelezny's business transactions. MLADA FRONTA DNES writes that Mr Zelezny has been using the lawyer as a front in businesses where he no longer has direct influence. In a worst case scenario, the paper writes, Mr Zelezny is prepared to use his lawyer as a fall guy.

Mr Zelezny, the general director of TV NOVA, has been embroiled in a complicated legal battle with American investors CME since 1999, and was ordered by an international arbitration court in September to pay almost a billion Czech Crowns, or 23 million USD, in damages to the American company. Mr Rozehnal is charged for his role in the allocation of 1 billion Czech Crowns to a firm in Lichtenstein at a time when Zelezny was supposed to make good on his debts; Zelezny was already charged by a court in April.

Above all MLADA FRONTA DNES charges that Czech investigators are making a comedy of their questioning of Mr Rozehnal, with an embargo on information and secret manoevering that the newspaper says would be more worthy of police action against Osama Bin Laden. The daily sees the crux of the problem in the fact that until now it has been difficult for investigators to find anything on Mr Zelezny that would stick strongly enough to get him and his associates before a court. A court which would decide once and for all whether Mr Zelezny is just a very capable businessman, or nothing more than a criminal.

In other news LIDOVE NOVINY takes notice of a Prague district court's verdict pronouncing publisher Michal Zitko guilty of spreading hate propaganda in support of fascism. Mr Zitko published Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf two years ago, neglecting to include critical commentary that would have condemned the work of Nazi propaganda in a greater moral context.

Evcn so LIDOVE NOVINY sees the case as unsubstantiated, and argues that Mr Zitko is being used as a highly visible scapegoat and as an easy target for Czech courts to showpiece their role in fighting society's ills.

Meanwhile, the paper writes, skinheads with criminal backgrounds, who openly display the Hitler salute, often go uncharged, and glaring racial attacks against the Czech Republic's Roma population go unpunished. The paper writes, with a large dose of irony, that the kind of censorship displayed by the court's guilty verdict, will pave the way for the persecution of publishers who put out editions of works such as Plato's Republic, with its discriminatory philosophical recommendations of the banning of all poets from the state.

Moving on, PRAVO is making much of Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik's comments Monday on the unreliability of Czech-made L-159 fighter planes ordered by the Czech army. Mr Tvrdik said the planes present more of a danger for their pilots than a threat for potential enemies, criticising the fact that five of the planes have already undergone repairs. In general the planes are displaying multiple design faults.

PRAVO notes that while the official 50 billion Czech Crown price tag is certainly nothing to celebrate, the actual costs of the L-159 project may be even higher. According to PRAVO the cost will probably never be fully tabulated. The daily writes that the finances would have easily been better used in government ministries such as the Ministry of Education, and laments the loss of finances to the detriment of Czech taxpayers. Most of all, PRAVO emphasises that if Defence Minister Tvrdik's criticisms are on the mark, that heads in the army should fall over the L-159 project. However, the daily says, such an outcome is not very likely.

06-11-2001