The Great Train Robbery Covered by Czech Taxpayers

Sabina Slonková
18. 9. 2007 20:00
Czech Railways lost 100 million, the culprits escape
Stealing millions from the state might not constitute a criminal offense in the end
Stealing millions from the state might not constitute a criminal offense in the end | Foto: Ondřej Besperát, Aktuálně.cz

Prague - The state-run Czech Railways had one hundred million Czech Crowns stolen last year; after almost a year-long investigation it seems nobody might ever be punished for the crime. Even though the authorities know those responsible.

The case involves enforcing a claim to the debt by the former Yugoslavia. The state-owned company, the Railways Transport Routes Administration, sold part of it to the Michin company in Brno.

The company enforced the debt but contrary to the original agreement did not hand it over to the state. All of this since the last year.

Will there be charges? It's not sure

Surprisingly, after several months long investigation the State Prosecutor's Office says the case might end up unpunished.

"Nobody has been charged so far in connection with this case and it's not sure anybody will. We are still checking," Ms Irena Válová, the spokeswoman of the State Prosecutor's Office, said.

The authorities would explain neither why the investigation is taking so long nor where the problem lies.

The contract with Michin company was signed directly by the managing director of the Railways Transport Routes Administration Jan Komárek who also personally negotiated its clauses with the key character of the case, the Brno-based entrepreneur Jan Čermák.

Mr Čermák, ironically, was sentenced to five years in jail for deception in an unrelated case.

Railway officials among those responsible

The vanishing act of CZK 114 million from the State Railways bore from the very beginning all the hallmarks of a thoroughly thought through con job: it involved several fronts, the Michin company kept changing owners who, at the end, initiated its liquidation, coincidentally at the time when the State started to sue it for the stolen millions.

The instigators of the dirty trick were also helped by the railway officials who did not secure state money in a satisfactory way.

The only insurance was a money draft, signed by Michin (and its then agent, devoid of property, and a related company, also devoid of property) acknowledging the debt towards the state. But, because of Michin liquidation, the chances of using the draft to recover the owned money are slim.

Normally, the state protects its interests when trying to collect a foreign debt through a private company by several insurance policies.

One of these is the so-called trust fund into which the money from abroad is paid, but the collecting company is unable to use it unless it clears its debt towards the state. Another way is to sell the debt to the private company; the state is paid cash and only then can the private company start to collect the debt from the foreign debtor.

To sue the officials? It's for the police to say

Also dependent on the results of the police investigation is the fate of the railway officials responsible.

Minister Řebíček is satisfied
Minister Řebíček is satisfied | Foto: Ludvík Hradilek

The Transport Minister, Mr Aleš Řebíček, had asked them for an opinion about the case; the officials gave him an assurance they did not stray and the Minister said he was satisfied. His office would only reconsider the case should the police prove someone had acted illegally.

"The Director General Jan Komárek already sent the Ministry a detailed opinion with answers to relevant questions. It did not contain any serious mistake on the part of either the Director General or any of his staff," said Karel Hanzelka, the Transport Ministry's spokesman.

A similar case during the previous government, involving a consolidation agency losing half a billion Czech Crowns, resulted in the then Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka suspending several of the agency's top managers and the state immediately bringing in action against it.

In the case of the Michin company and the Transport Ministry neither one nor the other course of action was taken.


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