News Former City Hall employees given suspended sentences
Five former employees at Prague’s City Hall were handed suspended sentences on Monday, ranging between one to three years in prison. The Municipal Court found the five guilty of wrongdoing in the Opencard case – specifically that they had signed disadvantageous contracts with producer Haguess for the implementation of the multi-purpose card. The system reportedly cost around 1.25 billion crowns. The card is used primarily as a transit pass but is also used in libraries. Monday’s ruling may be appealed.
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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.
The president’s words elicited an angry response from the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies Karel Schwarzenberg who said Mr. Zeman should spend a month in an Iranian jail so that he would know what he was talking about. The TOP 09 leader also rejected the idea that defense of human rights harmed exports, saying that if Czech companies produced quality goods they would always find buyers.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka defended the Czech government’s concerns for human rights issues on Thursday saying that defense of human rights and support for business and trade can go hand-in-hand. The prime minister was responding to criticism from President Miloš Zeman who said during a visit to the regions that excessive emphasis on human rights issues by some Czech top officials was harming Czech exporters and investors in countries like Uzbekistan or Iran. The prime minister said he did not believe one concern excluded the other and stressed that before the fall of communism in 1989 Czechoslovakia itself had relied on the West to bring up human rights issues on its behalf.
On a visit to the Papcel Litovel factory in the Olomouc region, President Miloš Zeman expressed the view that human right issues should not be allowed to stand in the way of business and trade. He said the country’s business interests were sometimes hurt by what he called an excessive emphasis on human rights on the part of Czech leaders, citing the cancelled visit by the president of Uzbekistan as an example. Mr. Zeman said this was a self-defeating policy, noting that since the Ubzbek head of state was not going to visit the country it would not be possible to bring up the issue of human rights face to face. At the same time, the Czech Republic was losing investment opportunities and risking business already underway in the country, the president noted. The Papcel Litovel factory has an eight million dollar investment in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek president recently cancelled his visit to the Czech Republic after the prime minister and the mayor of Prague said they were not willing to meet with him.
České Budějovice mayor Juraj Thoma has been charged with abuse of office. Mr. Thoma is believed to have signed a highly disadvantageous contract for the city hall on IT services in 2012 without calling a public tender. Independent experts claim that the contract was overpriced by an estimated 9 million crowns.
A Czech army plane transported a dozen more Ukrainian nationals injured in the recent clashes on Maidan Square to Prague for treatment on Thursday. The majority suffered gunshot wounds and will require surgery. The Czech government on Wednesday night agreed to set aside a further 8.5 million crowns to fund the humanitarian mission. A first airlift last week brought back 27 injured to Prague hospitals. The Czech government has said it will continue providing humanitarian assistance for as long as is needed.
The speaker of the lower house, Jan Hamáček, has banned the sale of alcohol on the premises of the lower chamber when the house is in session. Mr. Hamáček made the move in response to appeals by members of the ANO party which criticized the fact that MPs drink during sessions of the lower chamber. Critics within the party noted that since drinking at work is not allowed elsewhere there is no reason for MPs to have special privileges in this respect.