Police made a key arrest on Thursday as they try and unravel a convoluted case involving the company that runs Prague’s metro, trams and buses. Each time anyone buys a paper ticket, a tiny proportion of the sum goes to an obscure offshore company in the Virgin Islands. Investigators believe the money ends up in the hands of Ivo Rittig, a Monaco-based Czech businessman who was among four people arrested on money-laundering charges. The burly Mr Rittig started life as an amateur boxer and money-changer, but he’s now believed to be one of the most powerful people in the country, operating in the shady grey area between business and politics. Robert Břešťan is the chief commentator for the weekly Ekonom.
“I think that for most of the Czech population, it’s a relief that somebody like Ivo Rittig has finally been taken. On the other hand, nobody knows what the end of this story will be, which is the most important question. It’s one thing if somebody is taken into custody for two days, but the question is how the court will decide.”
If you pick up Mladá Fronta Dnes today, the first three pages are all about Rittig, as if the police have arrested Al Capone. Do you think Ivo Rittig is Di Capo Di Tutto Cappi?’ Or is he just one of many shady figures in the world of Czech business and politics?
“He can be considered as a big fish. Definitely. He is a very influential man. His influence is connected mainly with the Civic Democrats, the political party which is in deep trouble just now, and he is – or he was – a very influential man. But I’m not sure if he is the head of the Czech mafia. I’m not sure. I think there could be bigger fishes than Ivo Rittig. But definitely he is a big fish, and it’s quite important that he will be forced to answer many important questions connected to the flow of public money into private pockets.”
Does it give you hope? Do you think things are changing in this country?
“You know it’s very hard to say. Ivo Rittig isn’t the first guy to be arrested and taken into custody. There have been several others, for example Marek Dalík, Martin Barták, Vít Bárta and so on. It goes back to what I was saying at the beginning. The most important thing is if Ivo Rittig will face Czech justice, and if he will be sentenced to several years, or if he will be released.”