News Press: Sobotka oversaw undervalued sell-off of mining firm while finance minister
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka oversaw the sell-off of mining firm OKD for a suspiciously low price in 2004 when he was finance minister, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Thursday. The company was sold for CZK 4.1 billion when it was actually worth more than twice as much, the newspaper said. Mr. Sobotka had the value of OKD verified by a law firm that also represented the buyer, MfD said, quoting a police file. The current prime minister had previously worked at the law firm, which is headed by his friend. When the European Commission questioned the selling price, the Finance Ministry sent a letter to Brussels asserting that it had been in order – despite having received assessments putting the value of OKD at CZK 10.3 billion. Mr. Sobotka says the letter was signed by a deputy.
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Pavel Bělobrádek, the head of the Christian Democratic Party (one of three parties in the current government) has confirmed he will seek another term as chairman at an upcoming party congress. Mr Bělobrádek suggested several months ago he might consider giving up politics for family reasons. He has strongly denied health reasons could play a role (the party head and deputy prime minister suffers from multiple sclerosis). He allowed it was probably his last run for the post for some time. So far, Bělobrádek - who successfully led his party back to national politics in 2013 - faces no challengers.
A muddy, not white, Christmas is what Czechs can expect in a few days, meteorologists have said, issuing a forecast for next week featuring unusually-mild daily temperatures exceeding 10 degrees Celsius with a probability of rain. According to the forecast, daytime freezing temperatures will only arrive in mid-January.
The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority has issued a warning to consumers to avoid a children's porridge by German bio producer Alnatura, which was found to have traces of atropine - a naturally-occurring tropane alkaloid which is toxic at high levels. The inspection authority ordered all of the goods in question be removed from store shelves; Alnatura preventively pulled all of its children's line containing millet, a spokeswoman for the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority said.The product is sold at DM drugstores in the Czech Republic.
A US military plane with a supply of Czech ammunition for Kurds fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq took off from the airport in Pardubice before noon on Saturday, the spokeswoman for the General Staff of the Czech Army confirmed. Some 5,000 anti-tank shells for RPG 7 launchers were provided. The plane's destination was Irbil. A day earlier, a Czech military CASA plane brought equipment as well as American personnel to Pardubice from their base in Ramstein, Germany, who helped prepare the payload for the journey, the Czech news agency said. At the end of August, the Czech government approved the donation of 41 million crowns worth of ammunition against IS (also known as ISIS and ISIL). The first munitions deliveries took place in September.
European Commission president to attend commemorative event in Czech Republic marking liberation of Auschwitz
The head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, together with almost two dozen speakers of parliament and deputy speakers, will attend a commemorative event in the Czech Republic in January marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp in neighbouring Poland in WWII, the Czech News Agency reported on Friday. According to ČTK, citing the US Embassy in Prague, US President Barack Obama had spoken to his Czech counterpart to say he would not be able to attend. Russian President Vladimir Putin, another invitee, is also expected to decline. From heads of state, only Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev has confirmed his participation officially. A two-day international forum, organised by the European Jewish Congress and other organisations, will be held in Prague and Terezin, north Bohemia, on January 26-27.
The unseasonably warm weather has been breaking temperature records around the country. The highest temperatures were recorded at weather stations in Lednice and Pohořelice in south Moravia where they reached 14.8 degrees Celsius. The weekend is expected to bring a cold spell with snow in altitudes 400 meters above sea level and a strong wind. Drivers have warned about snow drifts on less frequented roads.
According to a survey conducted by the CVVM polling agency public trust in Czech President Miloš Zeman has dropped further, to 34 percent compared to 37 percent in November. The president’s trust rating took a dive in October dropping by 21 percent in the wake of a number of controversial statements he made on a state visit to China and a radio interview peppered with vulgar language. Mr. Zeman had the trust of 61 percent of Czechs when he took office in March of 2013.
The Czech finance ministry wants to raise taxes on gambling to almost double the amount it collects from the industry at present. Companies currently pay the standard 19 percent corporate tax rate plus an additional sector tax of 20 percent of winnings. The finance ministry is proposing to raise the gambling tax to 40 percent as of 2016. The annual payment for one gaming machine will go up from the current 20,000 to 40,000 crowns.
An Ostrava court has sentenced two men involved in the 2012 methanol poisonings that killed close to fifty people to eight and ten years respectively. Jaromir Pánek allegedly provided the methanol to be used in bootleg spirits and Simon Kramarčík sold the deadly methanol-laced products to consumers even after the first deaths were reported. They were found directly responsible for the deaths of three people and the severe poisoning of four others.
The Brno city council has issued a blanket ban on gaming machines in the city as of next year. Gambling will be restricted to licensed casinos and only allowed in 8 of the city’s 29 districts. The ban was supported by 37 out of 55 councilors. Although several small towns have enforced similar bans, Brno is the only big city to have made the move.