News Eleven former Tofl gang members found guilty
A court in Brno has found 11 members of the notorious Tofl gang guilty of bribery, extortion and abuse of office. They received sentences of 3 to 9 years and hefty fines. The gang is named after a former head of the regional economic crime squad who together with several former colleagues threatened entrepreneurs. They elicited large sums of money for withdrawing trumped up charges against them and in some cases even threatened to murder or abduct family members if the money was not delivered. The court heard over 100 witnesses in the case which attracted intense media attention.
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Czech MEP Jan Zahradil has called for the European Union to take a firmer approach to Russia over its military incursion into the Ukrainian province of Crimea. Russia must face international sanctions over its actions, Mr. Zahradil, who heads the European Conservatives and Reformers group at the European Parliament, told the Czech News Agency on Friday. He said he disagreed with his former Civic Democrat party colleague Václav Klaus, who said that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had acted rationally in the current crisis in Ukraine. However, Mr. Zahradil said he shared Mr. Klaus's fears that the EU could "abuse" the situation.
Miloš Zeman has improved the image of the Czech Republic since being appointed president on March 8 last year, the country’s prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said on the eve of the former’s first anniversary in office. While his predecessor Václav Klaus was a Eurosceptic, Mr. Zeman is avowedly pro-European and returned the EU flag to Prague Castle after his appointment. Mr. Sobotka said he had noticed the Czech Republic had a better image while on foreign trips.
NHL club the Buffalo Sabres are due to induct Czech goaltender Dominik Hašek into their Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the end of this month. Hašek was with the Sabres from 1992 to 2001, during which time he helped the club to 234 wins and a record 55 shutouts in 491 games. Now aged 49, he was the first goalie in NHL history to win the Hart Trophy twice and picked up six Vezina trophies in only nine years.
The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, says tough conditions should be attached to any European Union aid to Ukraine. Speaking on a visit to the Moravian town of Přerov on Friday, Mr. Zeman said that at the present time, prior to elections, any such financial assistance would end up in a “black hole” in the pockets of the country’s oligarchs. The president said if Ukraine wanted to feel part of Europe, it would have in the coming decade to be prepared to accept related sacrifices, such as higher gas prices.
Former UK prime minister Tony Blair is set to visit Czech President Miloš Zeman at his Lány residence near Prague on Saturday evening. Mr. Blair will sign a memorial book at the chateau before a meeting with the head of state. The two left wingers’ prime ministerial terms overlapped: Mr. Blair led a New Labour government in Great Britain from 1997 to 2007, while Mr. Zeman helmed a Social Democrats government from 1998 to 2002.
The Czech government wants to establish a central register of bank accounts in a bid to combat tax evasion. The register would be run by the central bank. The plan was announced by Finance Minister Andrej Babiš and Interior Minister Milan Chovanec after a meeting on Friday. Mr. Babiš said he would present legislation creating such a register at the next meeting of the cabinet. A special inter-ministerial team will also be set up to deal with individual cases of tax fraud.
The widow of architect Jan Kaplický has discussed the building of one of his designs with the mayor of Prague 8, Lidovky.cz reported. The large, futuristic structure, originally conceived as a new National Library building to stand on Letná Plain and nicknamed the Blob, could be built on the city’s Rohanský Island, under a proposal from Culture Minister Daniel Herman backed by a wealthy developer. After a meeting with Prague 8 mayor Jiří Janků, Eliška Kaplický said she liked the idea of the project being realised on Rohanský Island, in part because it is by Karlín, an area that has seen a lot of new architecture in recent years.
Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek and Minister for Legislation and Human Rights Jiří Dienstbier have been slammed by Social Democrat party colleagues for making overly critical comments on Russia in relation to the current crisis in Ukraine, Právo reported on Friday. At a meeting of the Social Democrats’ parliamentary group Mr. Zaorálek was accused of behaving as if he were in opposition and unaware that his words could influence relations with other states, the newspaper said. The foreign minister has backed the opposition in Ukraine, while Mr. Dienstbier has said a Russian bidder should be excluded from a tender to extend a Czech nuclear power station over the country’s actions.
Two Czech observers have left for Crimea within the international monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the ctk news agency reported. The 37-string monitoring team is to visit Ukrainian military installations in Crimea and the headquarters of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol. In view of the heightened tension it is not certain whether the pro-Russian authorities in Crimea will allow the international monitoring team to enter the peninsula.
Czech prime minister says Crimean crisis has emphasized the need to improve energy security in Europe
The crisis in Ukraine has emphasized the need to improve energy security in Europe, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said after Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders in Brussels. The Czech prime minister said that the EU would be in a better position to respond to the Crimean crisis were it not dependent on Russian oil and gas. The Czech Republic has pushed for a diplomatic solution to the crisis taking a cautious stand on economic sanctions. Mr. Sobotka likewise expressed support for the proposal that the political part of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine be signed by the Ukrainian interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, since this would help Kiev’s efforts to maintain the territorial integrity of the country.