Czech Libertas recruit has conviction for evading duty

Thu, Jan 22, 2009, 00:00

BUSINESSMAN DECLAN Ganley has recruited a Czech MEP and former media mogul, Vladimir Zelezny, to help set up a Libertas branch in the Czech Republic in advance of the European elections.

The appointment is the first significant announcement made by Libertas in central and eastern Europe, where Mr Ganley hopes to win scores of seats in the June elections.

Mr Zelezny is a colourful and controversial character. He is currently being investigated by the Czech authorities for tax fraud and abuse of creditors.

He is co-founder of the state’s first commercial television station, Nova TV, which became the Czech Republic’s most popular channel by broadcasting popular US imports such as Baywatchand featuring naked women reading the weather forecast.

Libertas spokeswoman Anita Kelly told Czech newspaper Lidove novinyon Tuesday that the Czech arm of Libertas had been registered by Mr Zelezny with its knowledge. She told The Irish Timesyesterday this did not necessarily mean he would lead Libertas.cz.

Despite Libertas’s claim to be pro-European, Mr Zelezny told Prague Radio last year he was a Eurosceptic. “I left the Czech Republic for Brussels as a Eurorealist, Eurosceptical politician, and now I am a fierce Eurosceptic. It’s an over-regulated environment which strongly resembles what we know from our communist past.”

Once known as the Czech Rupert Murdoch, Mr Zelezny won the licence to broadcast Nova TV in 1994 and attracted €140 million investment from Ronald Lauder, one of the world’s richest men and heir to the Estée Lauder empire.

In 1999 he had a public falling out with Mr Lauder and took full control of Nova TV, claiming he retained ownership of the state licence to broadcast.

Mr Lauder later successfully sued Mr Zelezny and the Czech government, which had to pay his company €353 million in compensation. By this time, Mr Zelezny had sold on his stake in Nova TV to another firm. He has subsequently been pursued for tax evasion and abuse of creditors over the affair and several court cases are pending.

In 2007 a Prague court gave Mr Zelezny a suspended jail term and fined him nearly €250,000 for not paying import duty on valuable paintings he had bought abroad. Like his former business associate Mr Lauder, he is a keen art collector. He has appealed the court’s ruling and a higher court will rule shortly on that appeal.

Mr Zelezny entered politics in 2002, when he was elected to the Czech senate and in 2004 he won a seat in the European Parliament.

He set up his own political party, the Independent Democrats, in 2005, which Czech sources describe as a one-man operation.

He unsuccessfully sought re-election in the June 2006 Czech elections. His motivation in joining Libertas may be to bolster his chances of retaining his seat as an MEP. In the Czech Republic it is necessary to attract 5 per cent of the vote to be assured of winning a seat.

In 2005 the European Parliament stripped Mr Zelezny of immunity following a request by the Czech judiciary.