News Press: Police tapped two journalists’ phones in army corruption case
The Czech police tapped the phones of two journalists as part of their investigation of the 2009 purchase of the Austrian-made Pandur armoured vehicles for the Czech military, the daily Právo reported on Saturday. The investigators tapped the phones of reporters for the newspapers Právo and Mladá fronta Dnes in 2011 in an effort to determine the origin of leaked documents in the case, the daily said. The police, which acted with the consent of the court, also tapped the phones of several top police officers and prosecutors, according to the report. The Czech army in 2009 bought 107 Pandur APCs for 14.4 billion crowns. Marek Dalík, a former aide to then prime minister Mirek Topolánek, faces criminal charges over allegedly demanding a bribe from the producer of the vehicles.
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The national air carrier ČSA which earlier announced plans to lay-off a third of its staff started handing out notices on Thursday. The company is planning to let go 77 pilots and close to 200 flight attendants. Flight attendants’ trade unions are threatening strike action.
The ANO party, along with the Social Democrats and the three-way coalition of the Greens, the Christian Democrats and Mayors and Independents, who are holding talks on forming a coalition in Prague, have reached agreement on a division of seats in the City Council. The winning ANO, which will fill the post of mayor, is expected to hold the city’s finances, security, health and housing. The Social Democrats should get transport, social policy and European funds while the three-way grouping should take the environment, culture and infrastructure. ANO’s Adriana Krnáčová is expected to fill the post of mayor. The agreement on the division of posts has yet to be sealed by the parties’ leaderships.
Czech Airlines has a received a commitment for financial support from its biggest shareholder Korean Air to boost its efforts to stabilize the loss-making company. Korean Air has conditioned the promised increase in capital on the full implementation of a restructuring plan unveiled in September. The plan involves selling assets and shrinking the company’s fleet and workforce. ČSA has announced plans to lay-off a third of its staff including 77 pilots and close to 200 flight attendants. Korean Air acquired a 44 percent stake in Czech Airlines in 2013 from the state after the government had made several attempts to sell the airline. The Czech state holds 54 percent shares and the insurance company Česká Pojistovna 2.2 percent.
The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has criticized a number of countries, among them Japan, Russia, Brazil and the Czech Republic, for not abiding by an OECD convention on combating bribery in international business transactions. In its 2014 report on fighting bribery in business Transparency said only the US, Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland were actively upholding the agreements reached. The fact that some big exporters are tolerating and even exporting bribery in international business is hampering global progress in the field, the IT report says.
The Senate on Thursday approved a government-proposed bill on the introduction of a third 10 percent VAT rate on books, baby food and medicines as of January 2015. The basic VAT rate of 21 percent and the reduced rate of 15 percent will be maintained. The bill still needs to be signed into law by the president.
The European Parliament on Wednesday approved the 27 members of the new European Commission, as presented by its President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, with 423 votes in favour, 209 against and 67 abstaining from the vote. The new Commission now needs to be formally appointed by governments or EU heads of state in order to be able to take up its duty on November 1 for a five-year term. The Czech Republic is represented by Věra Jourová, who has been approved for the post of European commissioner for justice, consumer rights and gender equality.
Hundreds of people were evacuated on Thursday morning from their homes in the vicinity of a munitions depot in the village of Vrbětice in South Moravia, which was destroyed by explosion and fire last week. Police pyrotechnics experts are continuing their investigation at the site and there is a risk of further blasts. Residents evacuated from their homes will be allowed to return in the evening.
The Senate on Wednesday approved the abolition of direct payments in health care, introduced by the former centre-right government of Mirek Topolánek in 2008. Under the new bill, patients will no longer be required to pay 30 crowns for every visit to the doctor and a 30-crown fee for medical prescriptions in pharmacies. The only fee that will remain in effect is a 90-crown fee for emergency visits. The new bill should come into effect in January 2015.
The renowned Chinese writer Yan Lianke received the Franz Kafka Prize at a ceremony at the Old Town Hall in Prague on Wednesday. The 55-year old author has published several novels and more than ten volumes of short stories. He has received China’s two top literary awards but several of his novels were banned from publishing. His works have also been translated and honoured abroad. The Franz Kafka Prize was established in 2001 and is co-sponsored by the Franz Kafka Society and the city of Prague.
Czech linguist, writer and translator Patrik Ouředník will receive the State Award for Literature for 2014, granted by the Ministry of Culture. The Czech-born author, who has been living in France since 1984, will be given the prize for life-long contribution to literature. Literary theorist and translator Jiří Pechar will receive the state prize for his translations from French, Spanish and German. The awarding ceremony will take place in Prague on Thursday, October 23.