News Senate member and mayor of Přerov to face corruption charges
Member of the Czech upper house, the Senate, and mayor of Přerov, Jiří Lajtoch, has been charged with corruption in connection with tenders carried out by the city. Social Democrat Lajtoch, as well as four other members of the town council’s executive, face charges, the regional prosecutor told the Czech News Agency. They are in connection with reconstruction work carried out on the town’s ice hockey stadium and construction of a new old people’s home. Work on both projects ended up much more expensive than originally budgeted for and the extra work was given to the original contractor without a new tender. Police have attempted three times before to bring the case to court but the charges were dismissed beforehand. Lajtoch and those facing charges with him say they are innocent.
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ANO leader and minister of finance Andrej Babiš has said future hotspots to process immigrants seeking refuge in the European Union should be sited outside Europe. Babiš made his comments before a meeting with the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in the Hague on Thursday. The Czech minister pinpointed Turkey as the prime location for a sort of European Ellis island, a reference to the historical US immigration site outside New York. The Czech minister said operating such sites should be the responsibility of the EU adding that Greece and Italy had clearly failed in their responsibility to police the common Schengen area frontier. If the hotspots fail then a wall, such as that between the US and Mexico, might be an option, Babiš added.
Two German treasure hunters have claimed that the world famous amber chamber looted by Nazi forces from St. Petersburg during the Second World War is hidden in the cellars of a Czech castle. The claim has been made by Germans Erich Stenz and Georg Mederer that the treasure is hidden at Frýdlant castle in northern Bohemia. They say a now dead witness recounted how lorries brought the treasure there towards the end of the war. The treasure hunters complain their attempts to pursue research at the site has been blocked by the Czech National Heritage Institute and the Czech government. The amber room was a gift to Tsar Peter the Great by the then ruler of Prussia at the start of the 18th century.
South Moravia will take in 24 Iraqi Christian refugees already in February, the charity Generation 21 announced on Thursday. The Czech government agreed last year to take 37 families totaling around 150 people. The South Moravian region announced Thursday that it will give 200,000 crowns to the charity which has taken charge of finding them housing, giving them language courses and preparing them for the jobs market.
One of the Czech Republic’s biggest banks, Komerční Banka, announced a surprise drop in profits for 2015. The bank announced a net profit of 13.1 billion crowns, 1.5 percent less than the final figure for 2014. Most analysts had expected the profit for last year to rise. Some observers highlighted the fact that the bank made increased provisions for bad loans at the end of the year.
A row between the Czech coalition government appears to be boiling over about the comments of Minister of Defence, Martin Stropnický, confirming that five Czech hostages held in Lebanon were exchanged for the return of Lebanese citizen Ali Fayad to his homeland. Christian Democrat leader and deputy prime minister Pavel Bělobrádek said that Stropnický should consider resigning or prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka or ANO leader Andrej Babiš should decide whether he be sacked. Bělobrádek said confirming such sensitive information broke the government line not to comment on the exchange which caused a strong protest from the US.
The total worth of mortgage loans offered last year came to a record 184 billion crowns, according to figures released by the Ministry for Regional Development. The number of clients taking out loans jumped to around 102,000. The main factor in the booming market was the low average interest rates on mortgages of around 2.14 percent. The mortgage loans total in 2014 came to around 143 billion crowns
Minister of Defence Martin Stropnický has said that the Visegrad four regional grouping should consider sending a rotating contingent of troops to the Baltic States for training with local forces. The minister made the suggesting during an ongoing two-day ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The idea would in part answer the Baltic States’ repeated demands for a stepped up military presence from its allies given the increased fears and tension with neighbour Russia.
Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek said on a visit to Macedonia on Wednesday that dealing with the so-called Balkans route for immigrants was a problem not just for local countries but was of key interest for the Czech Republic and the EU as a whole. The minister said his visit was not aimed at criticism of Macedonia for failing to stem the flow of immigrants northwards but to help find solutions. He highlighted the material and personnel help already offered by Prague, a contingent of Czech police are already helping their Macedonian colleagues. Zaorálek said it was too soon to say whether the Greek-Macedonian border would in future become the de facto border for immigrants seeking to enter the EU, a scenario floated given Greece’s difficulty dealing with the number of immigrants entering the country.
Czech president Miloš Zeman confirmed on Wednesday that a ransom of around 150 million crowns was paid for the release of two Czech women who were held hostage in Pakistan for almost two years. He said the then government was faced with a difficult dilemma over whether to pay the sum demanded or see the women executed or sold into slavery. Zeman’s comments confirm the broad sum earlier reported by the weekly Respekt. But his words brought condemnation of the Czech head of state from prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka and from the head of the Christian Democrats, Pavel Bělobrádek who said that the confirmation of secret details served no useful purpose. The two Czechs were released in March last year. Zeman later said he had not confirmed anything but merley repeated information that was already public.
Around 15 percent of Czech elderly people are faced with poverty, a survey commissioned by the Czech Statistical Office has reported. It found those living on their own in old age, mostly women, are particularly vulnerable to hardship with around 75,000 elderly people falling into the poverty trap. Poverty is defined as having less than 60 percent of the average monthly income.