Thursday, November 20, 2008

I forgot about November 17

I forgot about November 17, this year. Was it really a revolution in 1989, velvet or otherwise? Some in fact have a different opinion.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Czechs Mourn the Tragic Loss of Ambassador Ivo Zdarek in Islamabad

Prague - The Czech ambassador to Pakistan lost his life yesterday in the terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Ivo Zdarek (November 6, 1960 - September 20, 2008) studied in the United States at Stanford University and was also educated at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and in Prague at Charles University. He previously served as the Czech ambassador to Vietnam. It is unfortunate that the terrorists who killed him along with many others in this senseless bombing will receive more news coverage than a man like Ivo Zdarek who devoted his life to diplomacy and international goodwill. It is past time for the Islamic world to reign in its fundamentalist terrorists, just as the Christian world must transcend its own fundamentalism. Both are dangerous if not outright evil elements in the world and can only lead to tragedies such as the one in Islamabad yesterday. Nothing good will ever come of such extremism or the fundamentalists who promote it. Another sad day for the Czech Republic and for the world.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Magic of a Traveling First Republic Crown

Prague - In the late autumn of 1989, I was visiting the Saturday Market in Portland, Oregon, where I saw a 1921 Czechoslovak Crown from the First Republic that had been scrimshawed by a sailor and made into a pendant. Since the Velvet Revolution had just happened I decided to buy it. A couple of years later, in October 1992, I made my first trip to the then Czechoslovakia as an attendee at Esther Dyson's East-West High Tech Forum conference, and I took the pendant with me to Prague. Later, back home in Seattle, I accidentally left the pendant at a friend's house, but she returned it to my friend Jennifer, with whom I had been visiting her, to send to me in Prague, where I had moved in the spring of 1993. I asked Jennifer instead to give it to my friend Tom, who she didn't know, since he was coming to visit me in Prague later that year. When Tom returned the pendant to me he thanked me for introducing him to Jennifer, a fellow artist, and we joked about how the pendant bounced around the planet and brought people together. In this same spirit I suggested that he take the pendant back to Seattle and give it to my friend Jim, who I thought he would also enjoy meeting. About a year later in 1995, I made an infrequent trip back to Seattle at Christmastime and I was sitting in my favorite neighborhood tavern, The Two Bells, when my friend Jennifer walked in, which was a surprise, since she didn't know I would be there and she lived on the other side of the state. We were talking about the pendant when Tom walked in, which was even more of a surprise since he had recently moved to Detroit and just happened to make a trip back to Seattle for the holidays. The three of us walked to another local tavern, the Five Point, and we were sitting in a back booth when in walked Jim, who just happened to be passing by and spotted me from the door. My other two friends were sitting with their backs to him and Jim came towards me holding out the pendant, saying "This thing is really magic", when of course he saw Tom, who he now knew, and Jennifer who he didn't. So I introduced Jim to Jennifer, thus closing a circle that started with the globe-trotting Czechoslovak Crown back in 1989. I wonder where it is now.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Tomas Bata, Czech Shoe Magnate Dies at 93

Prague - Tomas Bata died in a Toronto hospital today. He was 93. Bata's name is practically synonymous with shoes in some parts of the world, thanks to the international success of the company founded by his father, who is also credited with dreaming up the retail pricing model just under the next highest dollar, like "$9.99". It seems like yesterday that I took my mom to Tomas Bata's 90th birthday breakfast here in Prague. The wife of the American ambassador to the Czech Republic was there and by strange coincidence my mom knew her from years before, when she was still a newlywed. They hugged each other and exchanged enough surprised remarks that for a few minutes the cameras were trained on my mom, mistakenly thinking that she must be some international celebrity or VIP like Bata himself, which in her own way I guess she was. Tomas Bata outlived her by several years. They were both young for their years.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Soviet Invasion of 1968 and Missing Street Signs in Prague

Prague - Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of (then) Czechoslovakia. This event has been adequately covered in the news and many other blogs, but today I was reminded of a little known and hardly remembered fact about the invasion, which is that the Soviets erred by one hour in their timing, allowing the Czechoslovakian state radio to stay on the air long enough to encourage citizens to take some immediate action against the invasion, which the people of Prague actually did by removing many street signs. Russian tanks were blundering around lost as a result. One tank shot the National Museum, mistakenly thinking it was the Parliament building. I believe this little tidbit of history says something about both Russians and Czechs.

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Prague is a City of Old Souls

Prague - I remember the first few weeks I lived in Prague back in 1993, I was starting to learn the Czech language and was exploring the Old Town pubs, making friends with the locals. The first real Czech friend I made was Honza, at the pub U Kata, and during that summer we used to enjoy drinking Gambrinus beer together on the sidewalk terrace while mingling with the refuges from Sarajevo, who were using this pub as a sort of base camp. Honza had previously lived many years in the U.S. and had only recently returned to Prague, so he spoke English perfectly. One afternoon I related what I thought was an unusual coincidence to Honza. I'd been riding in a Prague tram the day before with my young Czech teacher Marketa, and while I was rummaging through my backpack for something she noticed my English copy of the Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. She exclaimed, "I'm reading the same book right now, only in Czech". It turned out we were even reading the same chapter. Honza's only reaction to this pretty amazing coincidence was to ask me quietly if I had ever experienced past life regression before. He then told me that Prague was indeed a strange place full of old souls and that this "coincidence" (I could actually hear the quotes) was likely only the first of many I would experience here. And he was right.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Labor Day (May 1, 2008) Walk Around Prague

Prague - A walk from the Prague Castle district down through the Lesser Town and across Kampa Park, then onward to Wenceslas Square and finally to the Old Town Square and surroundings, ending again at the base of the castle. On Labor Day there are traditionally many street demonstrations in Prague, but as this video shows, the old parts of the city were instead peaceful and beautiful, as usual.



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Monday, April 7, 2008

A Fine Spring Saturday at the Fair in Prague

Prague - A walk around the "Matejska pout" at Prague's Vystaviste, the Art Nouveau exhibition grounds on April 5, 2008. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the annual spring fair, named after St. Matej, the patron saint of builders and blacksmiths...



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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Czech Republic Will Sign Agreement About Controversial Radar Base With U.S. on May 5

Prague - A written agreement between the governments of the Czech Republic and the United States concerning the placement of a controversial American radar base on Czech soil should be signed on May 5, 2008, during a conference in Prague about missile defense with participation by U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The text of the agreement is expected to be finalized next week at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, according to Czech diplomatic spokesperson Zuzana Opletalova, who added that "now it is a question of organization rather than negotiation". (sources: Pravo, Novinky.cz)

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Vaclav Klaus Will Sign His Czech Presidential Oath With A $60,000 Pen

Prague - On Friday Vaclav Klaus will sign his second Czech presidential oath of office, this time with a limited edition pen that would carry a $60,000 price tag if it were actually for sale. The pen is part of a set of ten created especially for Czech presidents by Koh-i-noor and donated by the company to the government. Koh-i-noor's company director Hardtmuth Vlastislav Briza said the inspiration for creating the pens came from the first time Vaclav Klaus signed his oath of office five years ago, when the pen given to him wouldn't write and he had to use his own instead. The new presidential pens are made from the highest quality materials including 18-karat gold and platinum. (source: Pravo)

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Prague's Homeless "Boat People" Now Have Their Own Lawyer

Prague - The city of Prague's homeless people already have a unique shelter, a renovated boat house on the banks of the Vltava River. The shelter provides clean and modern overnight accommodation including hot meals for more than 150 people per night. As of today the city has added the services of a lawyer on the boat twice a month to help the homeless cope with such issues as debts and personal bankruptcy proceedings. (sources: CTK, novinky.cz)

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Almost 10% of the Czech Republic Lost Power Yesterday in High Winds

Prague - Almost 10% of the population of the Czech Republic, or nearly one million people were intermittently without power on Saturday and Sunday because of extremely high winds that were clocked by meteorologists at up to 140 kilometers/hour (86 miles/hour). Falling trees were responsible for at least two deaths over the weekend. Severe thunderstorms also knocked out rail transportation and mobile telecommunications networks throughout the country. (source: CTK)

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Czech Republic Reflects On 60 Years Since Communists Took Power

Prague - Events will take place all day on Monday in Prague to reflect on the 60th anniversary of the Communists' rise to power in Czechoslovakia on February 25, 1948. Both the critics of the Communist takeover as well as today's heirs of the former totalitarian regime will participate in entirely disparate events. For example the current Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) plans a demonstration "against the government, for socialism, and to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the events of February", while the second annual Mene Tekel festival "against totalitarianism, evil, and violence to revive the memory of the Czech nation" is scheduled to take place simultaneously. (source: CTK)

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Foreigners Who Want Czech Residency Will Have To Speak Czech

Prague - Foreigners in the Czech Republic applying for permanent residency or citizenship will soon have to pass a Czech language exam. Starting next year anyone wishing permanent residency will have to speak Czech at level A1, meaning the ability to communicate and to manage basic day-to-day living situations. Those wishing citizenship will have to pass the much harder test at level A2. "Knowledge of the Czech language or language integration is a basic prerequisite for any sort of integration", stated the Minister for Human Rights, Dzamila Stehlikova. (source: novinky.cz) The author has just added a Czech language widget to this blog for those needing to start learning Czech.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Czech Soldiers Are Helping to Defend the New Border Between Kosovo and Serbia

Pristina/Prague - Today two platoons of Czech soldiers attached to the NATO Kosovo force (KFOR) are helping local police monitor and defend the new border between Kosovo and Serbia. At the border crossing Serb veterans have started burning tires and throwing rocks in protest of the declaration of independence by Kosovo. Meanwhile demonstrators breached the security of the American Embassy compound in Belgrade, Serbia and set fires. So far one unidentified charred body has been discovered by firefighters. Demonstrations are also taking place in Prague, where the Czech government has not yet formally recognized the new state of Kosovo. (source: CTK)

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Czech Serial Killer Gets Life in Prison

Hradec Kralove - The regional Czech court in Hradec Kralove on Thursday sent Petr Zelenka to prison for life. He was found guilty of committing a series of seven murders and attempting ten other murders by giving patients in a local hospital where he worked the anticoagulant drug Heparin. In addition to the life sentence, Zelenka must also pay damages to the families of the victims. (source: Novinky.cz)

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prague's Growing Garbage Woes May Turn Into Fortunes

Prague - Last year 81% of the Czech Republic's municipal waste ended up in Czech disposal facilities. Its disposal under the open skies is nevertheless least ecological and capacity is limited. Each person in the Czech Republic produces more than a kilogram of municipal waste daily. Yearly this amounts to nearly four million tons, of which three-fourths goes directly from the garbage can to the dump. The amount of waste grows yearly, while the capacity of waste disposal facilities shrinks.

The city of Prague will start to have problems with its municipal waste in 2010, when the biggest local waste disposal facility in Dablice will be at full capacity, and garbage will then have to be hauled farther away, possibly ending up in central Bohemia. At present modern technology for incineration of the additional waste is cost-prohibitive, but EU laws and regulations may force a switch to this more ecologically sound method of disposal, which also reduces the final volume of the waste to one-third while actually producing energy.

Planned changes in the legislation governing municipal waste disposal are causing a local boom in the waste management business. Recycling will be most profitable, followed by incineration. Both municipalities and companies want to invest billions of Czech crowns into waste liquidation and use. Companies can also get additional hundreds of millions of Czech crowns from EU funds. (sources: novinky.cz, aktualne.cz)

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Newly Re-Elected Czech President Doesn't Favor Recognition of Kosovo's Independence

Prague - Recently re-elected Czech president Vaclav Klaus, in a Sunday talk show on the local TV station Prima, took a cool position towards the recognition of Kosovo, saying "The government determines foreign policy, but if I were to sit with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Europe, I would in the course of dialog say: Let's not hurry, let's not do what isn't necessary." According to him, however, they are moving in the opposite direction. The Czech Republic belongs to those countries who are leaning towards recognition of Kosovo. (sources: TV Prima, novinky.cz)

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Head of Czech Social Democrats Compares Communist Party To A Blind Person

Prague - After the recent Czech presidential elections in which Vaclav Klaus was re-elected for a second six-year term, Jiri Paroubek, head of the CSSD (Social Democratic) political party made the following statement about the Communists: "If this reflects the development of Czech society, as was demonstrated by them during the presidential election, then unfortunately they will remain in the political ghetto for a long time, clearly. And the Social Democrats must reconsider, whether it makes sense to expend energy to help them out of that ghetto. The Communists remind me of a blind person to whom someone offers help in crossing the street, which they then refuse." (source: Pravo)

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Viktor Kozeny Claims Czech Court Case Against Him Was Fabricated

Prague - Viktor Kozeny, the former president of the Harvard Investment Funds, has called for Czech state prosecutor Jaromir Jindrich to make all transactions of the funds public on the Internet and to demonstrate which rules were broken, so that all Czech citizens may judge for themselves. "Stocks were never sold for less than the official market prices for the given day and all trades went through the Prague stock market completely correctly", stated Kozeny and he repeatedly stressed that according to him no law was broken. Kozeny also claims the court case against him was fabricated in order to discredit the process of privatization, which was underway in the Czech Republic at the time. Kozeny is accused of tunneling 16 billion Czech crowns (nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars) from the funds during the early 1990's. He remains in the Bahamas and refuses extradition to the Czech Republic to face trial in person. (sources: novinky.cz, CTK)

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Abandoned Czech Baby Is 11th Placed in Special "Babybox"


Prague - Today another Czech newborn was abandoned by placing it in a special "Babybox" mounted in the wall of the GynCentrum in the Prague neighborhood of Hloubetin, bringing the total of such cases in the Czech Republic to 11 since the project was started about two and a half years ago by the Statim Foundation. The history of similar projects is a long one, dating back at least to 1198. Pope Innocent III decreed that baby hatches should be installed in homes for foundlings in Italy so that a woman could leave her child in secret instead of killing it, since such cases were common at the time. (sources: novinky.cz, www.babybox.cz, wikipedia.com)

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fugitive Financier Viktor Kozeny - New Hearings in the Prague Court

Prague - The City Court in Prague on Tuesday began to hear the indictment of Viktor Kozeny and Boris Vostry. They are accused of tunneling over 16 billion Czech crowns (nearly one billion U.S. dollars at the time) from the Harvard Investment Funds during loss-making trades with the stock of a number of Czech businesses in the first half of the 1990's. If convicted of the charges both men face up to 12 years in prison. They are both currently fugitives of the Czech police. Vostry lives in Belize and Kozeny is in the Bahamas. (sources: Novinky.cz, CTK, Pravo)

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Monday, February 11, 2008

A Sad Day For Democracy in the Czech Republic

Prague - Opinion - One of the murderers of Milada Horakova will go unpunished, after being sentenced to only eight years in prison for her deed. Milada Horakova was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and a prominent democratic politician who was arrested on trumped-up charges of treason by the Communists, subjected to a show trial, and then executed in 1950, when she was 49 years old. Ludmila Brozova-Polednova, a former prosecutor during the Communist regime was tried and convicted for the murder last year, but today the High Court in Prague ruled that the statute of limitations for the crime had been breached and set her free. I personally feel this action by the High Court in Prague is in itself a crime. In my opinion, an overhaul of the entire Czech court system is long overdue, since Communists continue to sit on the bench nearly 20 years after the Velvet Revolution. Today was a sad day for democracy in the Czech Republic, and an ominous reminder that the Communists have never left Prague.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Trial of Czech Serial Killer Continues on Monday

Hradec Kralove - The trial of Petr Zelenka (31), a former hospital worker accused of murdering seven patients with the anticoagulant Heparin and attempting to murder nine more, continues tomorrow with hospital employees called as witnesses. The murders allegedly took place between May and September, 2006. Zelenka was arrested in December, 2006 and arraigned on January 21, 2008. Zelenka has retracted his earlier admission of guilt, claiming that he was severely beaten by the Czech police and forced to sign his testimony. The hospital where Zelenka worked in the town of Havlíckuv Brod has since tightened its access controls on drugs and installed a new camera system. (sources: novinky.cz, aktualne.cz)

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

New Czech Presidential Elections Will Be Necessary

Prague - 2:45 p.m. After three rounds of voting by the Czech Parliament and Senate, neither Vaclav Klaus nor Jan Svejnar received the necessary votes according to the Czech constitution to be elected President. New elections should be held within the next ten days.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

The Election Begins - Lawmakers Are Convening at the Castle

Prague - Congressmen and senators began to meet on Friday morning at the Prague Castle. At 10:00 a.m. they will begin to elect a president. They'll decide whether, for the next five years, Vaclav Klaus or Jan Svejnar will be sitting in the Castle. First, however, they must decide whether they will vote publicly or by secret ballot. -News item from Novinky.cz translated by PragueBob

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Czechs Shop the Internet Most Often in the Morning - That Means At Work!

Prague - Czechs reputedly shop on the Internet in the morning, that is, when they're at work. This differs from several other nations of the European Union, for example Norwegians shop the internet predominately in the evening. These facts stem from pronouncements by representatives of Internet shops who attended the Retail Summit 2008 conference. -News item from Novinky.cz translated by PragueBob

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Clear Winter's Day in Prague

Prague - A walk from my flat near the Prague Castle down Nerudova Street to Mala Strana and across the Charles Bridge...




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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Opinion: Google Czech Republic Will Benefit!

Prague - I believe a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo will benefit rather than threaten Google and Google's Czech Republic research center in particular. Yahoo's Open Source culture will be a poison pill for Microsoft, long the antithesis of Open Source software and a grand purveyor of overpriced and shoddy commercial software. Add to this the fact that Yahoo's core business is entirely different from Microsoft's, even though they both serve up e-mail, search, and online messaging. Yahoo understands this market better than Microsoft, otherwise there would be no 44.6 billion USD offer. In any case it will be many months before the new (Microhoo? / Yasoft!) organization finds its stride, which will give Google extra time to secure even further its hegemony of the online search-and-advertising space. Of course a proper response by Google will require more R&D, which will in turn benefit the brand new and growing research center in Prague! (opinion of the author, PragueBob, who received his master's degree in software engineering in Seattle when Microsoft was still young)

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Prague: Drunken City Policeman Stabs American Soldier to Death

Prague - After an argument between two men, one attacked the other with a knife and stabbed him him to death. The attacker was a drunken Prague city policeman. The incident took place around one-thirty in the morning in Ceskomoravska Street near the Sazka Arena. Eva Brozova from the Prague Police confirmed that the deceased was a forty-five year old citizen of the United States.

According to a reliable source (Pravo, daily news) the victim was an American soldier. The American Embassy refused to confirm that the victim was a U.S. citizen and only stated that he wasn't anyone from the embassy. Sources: Novinky.cz and Pravo (Translated and summarized by PragueBob)

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Czechs in Iraq were the target of a rocket attack: two injured

Two Czech soldiers were slightly injured during a rocket attack on the Czech contingent in Basra in southern Iraq early Sunday morning. Andrej Cirtek, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense, confirmed this for Novinky.cz.

-news item translated by PragueBob

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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Czech Egyptologists Find A Grave From The Time Of The Pyramids

Czech Egyptologists have made a unique discovery, the likes of which hasn't been seen for half a century. In the area of the pyramid fields they discovered an undisturbed grave dating from the time of the ancient Egyptian empire, more than four and a half thousand years old.

The burial chamber, which belonged to the priest Neferinpu, was hidden at the bottom of a ten meter deep shaft and the entrance to it was walled-up. When the entrance to it was found, scientists slowly dismantled the wall and lowered themselves in.

"And there you are standing on the threshold of an un-robbed burial chamber. A person experiences a little bit of the feelings of Indiana Jones," says Miroslav Barta, who led the work of the Czech Egyptologists in southern Abusir. According to him, however, these discoverer's feelings are quickly overshadowed by concerns that the unique discovery is processed without any mistakes.

"A chamber of size roughly four by two meters was jammed with ancient artifacts. You musn't rub against anything, in order not to damage any discovery. Everything must be photographed, mapped, sketched and numbered."

It took three days, until November 12, at which point the scientists were able to open the lid of the sarcophagus. In it were lying the remains of the priest Neferínpu with decorations and jewelry. Afterwards they examined the remains and other objects, and only just now have made public the details of their unique discovery.

Author: Stanislav Drahny, MF DNES (Translated and summarized by: PragueBob)

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Mafia Influenced the Czech Ministry of Defense

Because of fraud in the army in excess of a hundred million Czech crowns (CZK), police have already accused 24 people.

Prague - Organized crime has in the past penetrated the highest levels of the Czech Ministry of Defense. This news comes from the latest investigation by criminologists from the Division for Exposing Corruption and Financial Crime.

High Commissioner Roman Skrepek moreover confirmed that police are in the process of apprehending 14 new people. In total 24 influential clerks of the Ministry of Defense (former as of today) along with complicit businessmen are already accused. "This is about one of the most widespread cases of corruption", says Skrepek. About the exceptionality of the case even prosecutor Barnabas Liska says: "The case has all the signs of criminal conspiracy." Stated in a different way the mafia impinged on the ministry, which, thanks to manipulated contracts, lost tens of millions.

Author: JAN GAZDIK, MF DNES (Summary and translation by: PragueBob)

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