Prague - Heir to the British throne Prince Charles is coming to the Czech Republic on Saturday 20 March for a four-day visit, however a threat of an embarrassing faux pas is already looming over the event.
Aktuálně.cz has learned that 19 years ago, Prince Charles promised to send 19 millions CZK (according to current exchange rates the sum equals roughly 750 000 EUR, however the sum is to be seen as considerably larger given the prices 19 years ago) for a reconstruction of a baroque chateau Jezeří in northern Bohemia.
Charles himself visited Jezeří in 1991 to see the effects of the brown coal mining on the region and was shocked upon seeing the neglected and damaged chateau which had been destined to be demolished to make way for further expansion of coal mining only a few years before his visit.
Eventually, Prince Charles promised to financially support the reconstruction of the site. A special account was opened for the purpose of the donation, however Aktuálně.cz has found that the money never arrived.
People responsible for the reconstruction say that the money ended up in Prague where they were used for a repair of the gardens situated below Prague Castle.
Letter to Havel: Where is the money?
„I am 90 percent sure (that the money ended up in Prague), but I have never seen any signed document (that would prove it)," Pavel Koukal from the Company for the restoration of Jezeří said to Aktuálně.cz.
Koukal added that he sent a letter to then-president Václav Havel where he wrote that the money for the reconstruction of Jezeří never arrived.
Geologist Jan Marek from Charles University in Prague described the events in his publication on restrictions of coal mining in northern Bohemia. According to Marek, Prince Charles promised to secure a financial help from foreign donors, so the Company for the restoration of Jezeří opened a bank account at a bank in Most, northern Bohemia.
„The first money was sent by Prague's architect Karel Císař, the author of the reconstruction project. However, it was the only money that was transferred to the account. Prince Charles honored his promise, but the money ended up in Prague. They were used for the reconstruction of the baroque gardens situated below Prague Castle, and maybe also on the exchange of some of the statues on the Charles Bridge," Marek wrote.
Jezeří is located near Horní Jiřetín municipality whose mayor Vladimír Buřt says that he learned about Prince Charles' donation only seven or eight years after the prince visited the chateau. According to Buřt, it was an employee of the National Institute for Conservation of Sites (NPÚ) who mentioned the issue during her visit to Jezeří.
Charles was supposed to send tens of millions CZK, with half going to Jezeří and half to Prague for the reconstruction of the gardens. „Not a single penny was transferred to Jizeří," Buřt said to Aktuálně.cz, adding that he did not try to re-trace the money because it all took place so long ago.
„If the money had arrived, the chateau would probably be in a different shape now," Buřt added. The site is being reconstructed, but the works progress slowly.
Spokeswoman of the NPÚ Zdeňka Kalová said that the institute currently employs only one of the economists who were present when the money were transferred. „However, he does not know anything about the money having been destined for the chateau in Jizeří," Kalová said to Aktuálně.cz. Kalová confirmed that all the money were used for the reconstruction of the baroque gardens in Prague through a foundation called Prague Heritage Fund.
However, nobody seems to know anything about what has this foundation done in the last years, as it is associated uniquely with the reconstruction of the gardens. It is not even possible to look up its address on the internet.
Havel's secretary: We are not linked to Jezeří in any way
Ex-president Václav Havel's secretary Sabina Tančevová denied that the foundation had anything to do with the money for Jezeří.
„The foundation used its resources to reconstruct the palace gardens below Prague Castle, the Saint Luitgard statue on the Charles bridge and the church of Saint Bartholomew in the Old Town (Prague's historical center)," said Tančevová.
„It is possible that Prince Charles promised to help the reconstruction of Jezeří in 1991, but such a promise - if it was really made - has nothing to do with the foundation," added Tančevová, who at the same time objected the statement made by Pavel Koukal from the Company for the restoration of Jezeří about his letter to Václav Havel. Koukal says that in the letter he asked Havel for an explanation about the fate of the money.
„In his letter, Koukal only asked Václav Havel to say to Prince Charles about the conditions of the chateau," says Tančevová.
Lost, or never sent?
The British embassy website makes no reference to any money sent to Jezeří, it only mentions that Prince Charles contributed to the reconstruction of the gardens near the Prague Castle.
Even Karel Schwarzenberg, a popular politician and Václav Havel's former chancellor who accompanied Prince Charles during his visit to Jezeří, cannot help to solve the financial mystery: „I haven't even the slightest idea about it," he said to Aktuálně.cz.
Jan Rovenský from the Czech branch of Greenpeace says it is possible that a mistake was made, and that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by any of the parties involved. Or, maybe the money were never transferred from Britain in the first place?
„I don't think that Prince Charles changed his mind. And his commitment to Jezeří was clearly stated," Rovenský said to Aktuálně.cz. „Of course, it would be great if he could say during his visit this weekend that he will send the money again, when the first attempt failed. But I doubt he will do that."