Czech news in brief for October 31: Tuesday's top headlines

US senator is charged with intended child sex tourism in Prague, surge in cars thefts in Czechia, and more top headlines for Oct. 31, 2023

Expats.cz Staff ČTK

Written by Expats.cz StaffČTK Published on 31.10.2023 08:58:00 (updated on 31.10.2023) Reading time: 7 minutes

UN AFFAIRS Czech ForMin corrects defense minister's false Iran claim

The Czech Foreign Ministry has issued a correction to Defense Minister Jana Černochová's Tuesday afternoon statement, emphasizing that the Czech Republic will maintain its position as the chair of the UN Human Rights Council. Contrary to her earlier assertion, Iran is not set to lead the Human Rights Council but will instead chair the Social Forum, an annual two-day event outside the UN's official mechanisms. 

The Czech Republic's permanent representative Václav Bálek has held the role of presiding over the Human Rights Council since January. Černochová’s initial announcement of Iran's leadership in the Human Rights Council was a factual error, the Czech Foreign Ministry said. Over the weekend she called for Czechia’s withdrawal from the UN due to the organization’s calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

COST OF LIVING Fiala promises no energy-price jump next year

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala has today refuted claims of substantial household energy price hikes following the proposal of the Energy Regulatory Office (ERÚ) to change price plans. He asserts that the regulated price increase – amounting to approximately CZK 1,400 more per megawatt-hour, will be offset by the drop in electricity prices.

Fiala, in a meeting with industry and commerce representatives, stated that energy prices will most definitely not surge by double-digit percentages, reassuring citizens that they will pay roughly the same as this year, with a 1-percent increase at worst. He also noted the possibility of altering the ERÚs plans.

FINANCE Analysts: Saving accounts to be worse due to lower interest rates

The expected decline in the interest rates of the Czech National Bank is set to reduce the appeal of banks’ savings accounts, according to economic analysts. The current high interest rates – at 7 percent currently and the largest in over two decades – have boosted savings profitability. 

Commercial banks presently offer savings account interest rates ranging from 5 to 6 percent. With anticipated interest rate cuts, experts predict the repo rate to drop to 3.5 percent in the coming year. While savings accounts' attractiveness will diminish, term deposits are expected to remain appealing, offering nearly double the normal rate of return over the next 12 months.

POLITICS ANO plans to take govt. to court over pension law

The Czech opposition party ANO said this afternoon that it plans to challenge the government's pension-law change at Czechia’s Constitutional Court, citing issues of unfairness due to the abrupt implementation of the law without a transitional period. 

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ANO also alleges that the ruling coalition violated democratic principles and parliamentary rules by enforcing fixed voting times. Party leader Andrej Babiš said that in a democratic state, the minority should have a louder voice and larger influence over the majority. ANO also complained that 36 of its members of parliament were still yet to contribute to the debate before it ended.

PRAGUE NEWS Experts: Prague's Výtoň bridge should be replaced, not repaired

European consulting agency Jaspers has recommended outright replacing the run-down railway bridge in Prague's Výton area rather than repairing it, citing this as being a more cost-effective, quicker, and longer-lasting solution. Prague is currently debating whether to repair or replace the structure. The Nebourat association in the capital opposes the replacement plan, claiming that the European Investment Bank would not fund a new bridge. It instead emphasizes that a third track can be added to the existing bridge.

Jaspers’ research revealed that a new bridge would cost CZK 1 billion to CZK 1.2 billion, with lower maintenance costs over 30 years, while a reconstructed bridge would cost CZK 1.75 billion to CZK 2 billion, with higher maintenance expenses. Reconstruction would take 33 to 41 months, while replacing the bridge would take only two years.

CRIME Judge proposes three-year jail term for ex-MP accused of rape

The Prague 3 District Court public prosecutor has recommended a three-year prison sentence for former member of parliament Dominik Feri, who faces charges of two rapes and one attempted rape. Petra Gřivnová argued in her closing statement at the court Monday that all three incidents described in the indictment had been substantiated during the trial. 

Gřivnová asserted that the victims' credibility and lack of motive for false accusations were evident. She also refuted Feri's claims that other cases were false accusations, explaining that these were dismissed due to legal reasons. The court is set to deliver its verdict on Thursday.

CZECH-SLOVAK RELATIONS Slovak PM: V4 must come together to fight EU budget changes

Slovakia's new Prime Minister Robert Fico today told journalists that he urges the Visegrad Group (V4) countries to unify their stance on the upcoming EU budget changes. Fico opposes reduced EU funds for cohesion and agricultural support due to EU aid for Ukraine. He stressed the importance of V4 solidarity on budget revision, despite differing views on the Ukraine conflict. Fico, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, opposes military aid to Ukraine. 

Fico called for a V4 meeting to reach a collective agreement on the EU budget adjustment for 2024-2027, underlining that EU-wide consensus would be difficult without V4 support. Last week, Czech Prime Minister Robert Fiala unambiguously disagreed with Fico’s calls to stop sending aid to Ukraine. 

CRIME Former US senator accused of intending to rape minor in Prague

Former North Dakota Senator Ray Holmberg, 79, faces an indictment accusing him of traveling to Prague years ago with the intent to rape a minor. The indictment, unsealed by a U.S. court, is based on actions allegedly committed between 2011 and 2016. Holmberg, who served in the state Senate since 1976, resigned following a raid on his home in Grand Forks.

In addition to the Prague trip, investigators claim he knowingly received child sexual abuse images and communicated with a child pornography convict. The case has garnered significant attention in Washington. Holmberg entered a not guilty plea to two federal child porn charges: child sex tourism and receipt of child porn. An initial trial date has been scheduled for Dec. 5, 2023 in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota in Fargo.

Police Surge in car thefts linked to organized crime group

Czech police are investigating a surge in car thefts in shopping center parking lots, with organized groups of foreigners employing signal jammers to disable car locks and steal vehicles when owners are out of sight. Deported individuals change their surnames legally in their home countries and return to the Czech Republic to continue their thefts.

Criminal officers have dealt with dozens of recent car thefts, resulting in over three-quarters of a million crowns in damage. Police use surveillance cameras to solve many cases and apprehend culprits, but most offenders face administrative expulsion, allowing them to return with new identities. Police anticipate a rise in these crimes ahead of Christmas, urging the public to be vigilant by checking their car locks and not leaving valuables visible in vehicles.

PRAGUE Art festival beings in Old Town today

Art Prague, a contemporary art fair, has opened in the Clam-Gallas Palace in Prague, featuring up to 240 artists displaying their contemporary fine art works. The event will run from Tuesday to Sunday and will host 36 gallery exhibitions encompassing various art disciplines, including painting, drawing, sculpture, and video projections.

After a four-year hiatus, Art Prague returns to the renovated Baroque Clam-Gallas Palace in the Old Town, offering a unique blend of contemporary art and baroque architecture. The fair will showcase both established and emerging artists, as well as foreign artists, providing a diverse and engaging experience for art enthusiasts.

Defense Czechia's purchase of combat vehicles may cost CZK 70.6 billion

The Czech Republic's purchase of 246 Swedish CV90 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) may cost up to CZK 70.6 billion, an increase of nearly CZK 11 billion from the initially approved budget. The Defense Ministry clarified that the agreed contract price of 59.7 billion crowns remains unchanged. The higher figure includes a reserve for potential currency exchange rate fluctuations and the costs of essential raw materials.

The decision to buy additional IFVs contributed to a lower unit price per vehicle. Defense Minister Jana Černochová estimated the CV90s' total life cycle cost at around CZK 100 billion. The procurement will be made through an intergovernmental agreement with Sweden, bypassing a canceled competitive tender. CV90 combat vehicles may cost Czechia up to 70.6 billion crowns

environment Czechia inaugurates first green hydrogen electrolyzer

Solar Global, a company based in Napajedla, Czech Republic, has inaugurated the country's first industrial electrolyzer for green hydrogen production. This hydrogen, generated with the help of a photovoltaic power plant supported by wind energy, will be used for long-term energy storage from clean sources. It will also support the creation of a hydrogen fueling station for vehicles. Green hydrogen is crucial for long-term storage of renewable energy, complementing large-capacity battery storage systems for short-term energy surplus storage.

The electrolyzer produces 8,000 kilograms of emission-free hydrogen annually and also generates emission-free oxygen for various industries. The project received a subsidy of nine million crowns from the Ministry of the Environment. Solar Global plans to use green hydrogen for energy storage and has plans to build a hydrogen filling station within two years.

culture Museum to acquire renowned Czech architect's home

The Liberec region in the Czech Republic is considering the purchase of architect Karel Hubáček's house for CZK 12 million. Hubáček is renowned for his design of the iconic Ještěd hotel and radio station. The house, built as a prototype in the early 1960s, is proposed to become the workplace of the North Bohemian Museum and a memorial to the architect.

The purchase is contingent on approval by the regional council. Karel Hubáček's work, including the Ještěd project, earned him the prestigious Perret Prize from the International Union of Architects in 1969, making him the sole Czech architect to receive the award. The house remains in its authentic form and may potentially receive monument protection and be open to the public in the future.

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