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2004-08-19 16:07:41

Kozeny Extradition Leak Under Fire

The Czech Republic and the Bahamas do not have a recent treaty allowing for extradition.

Efforts to bring Viktor Kozeny to justice may have been badly hampered after the state prosecutor's office publicly revealed that the government is seeking to extradite the fugitive financier from the Bahamas. The Justice Ministry has sharply criticized the office of Chief Prosecutor Marie Benesova for alerting Kozeny.

The announcement by prosecutors that extradition was being sought under a 79-year-old treaty with the Bahamas, where Kozeny lives, was made Aug. 9 without consultation with the Justice Ministry, spokesman Petr Dimun said. "Mr. Kozeny has therefore received information according to which he can now act," Dimun told The Prague Post. "Extradition is not in the competence of the Supreme State Attorney's Office," Dimun added.

Kozeny, dubbed by the Czech press as the Pirate of Prague, is wanted both in the Czech Republic and in the United States on charges of criminal fraud, and an international warrant has been issued for his arrest.

He left the Czech Republic in 1994 for Ireland, where he gained that country's citizenship before moving to the Bahamas. He is wanted in this country on charges that in 1995-97 he illegally transferred 11.5 billion Kc ($442 million) worth of assets from his Prague-based Harvard Investment Funds and Sklo Union Teplice, to Zenko Trading, a Cypriot company that he controlled.

Kozeny became notorious for his involvement in Czechoslovakia's post-revolution coupon privatization program. The vouchers allowed citizens to receive stakes in state-owned businesses that were being converted into joint-stock companies.

Kozeny traded shares in a series of funds that he founded for such coupons. He made a fortune, but thousands of Czechs lost their investments in his funds and those of other traders who emulated him.

The Czech Republic and the Bahamas do not have a recent treaty allowing for extradition. Earlier this month, however, Benesova's office announced that it had discovered Czechoslovakia and Britain signed an extradition agreement in 1925 that also covered the British colonies.

When the Bahamas became independent in 1973, it issued a declaration that it would uphold the treaty, Svetlana Klouckova from the Supreme State Attorney's Office told the Czech News Agency (CTK). Klouckova said the government is now preparing an extradition request that will be sent to the Bahamas by the Czech Justice Ministry.

That revelation provoked a sharp response from Justice Ministry spokesman Petr Dimun. "The leak of information on the extradition of Viktor Kozeny to the Czech Republic ... is a very unfortunate step," he told TV Nova.

Andrea Storchova, a spokeswoman for the state police, told TV Nova: "This [the release of information] can draw attention to the person wanted, which is of course not good."

However, Benesova's deputy, Jaroslav Fenyk, speaking to CTK, retorted: "I personally think that Mr. Kozeny already knows about the [extradition] treaty and that he had known about it much earlier from other sources." Justice Minister Pavel Nemec has now demanded an explanation from Benesova.

Pavel Rychetsky, chairman of the Constitutional Court and a former justice minister, sided with Benesova in the row, telling Pravo any demand to keep the extradition treaty with the Bahamas a secret was absurd.

'Pirate's' prospects

Some politicians said it is now unlikely that Kozeny, 40, will appear before a court in this country. "I am no psychoanalyst, but I would expect him to do everything possible to avoid prosecution," said Civic Democrat Deputy Ivan Langer, vice chairman of the Chamber of Deputies.

Vlasta Parkanova, a Christian Democrat deputy and a former justice minister, said: "I am sure that Mr. Kozeny is definitely on high alert now." Parkanova added that Kozeny had been given "a certain signal. So, yes, I do understand that the justice minister is rather upset about it."

However, Prague-based lawyer Dagmar Raupachova was optimistic that Kozeny would be extradited.

Kozeny, meanwhile, told Mlada fronta Dnes by e-mail that he regards the case against him unlawful and politically motivated. "It is no coincidence that just several days after a new Bolshevik-Orwellian Social Democratic government was installed, a great discovery came, by which the present establishment wants to continue in my political persecution," he wrote.

In the United States, which has an extradition treaty with the Bahamas that came into force in 1994, Kozeny has been indicted on charges of stealing $182 million dollars from clients of a New York investment firm after persuading managers to invest in a privatization scheme in Azerbaijan.

Asked about what efforts the United States was making to bring Kozeny to trial, Sherry Hunter, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, told The Prague Post: "We are actively pursuing extradition." She declined to say whether an extradition process had begun.

Peter Kononczuk, The Prague Post
Petr Kaspar contributed to this report.

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