Costa Rica repatriates ex-Czech FinMin dept. head guilty of fraud

Karel Ponocný, ex-head of the Czech Finance Ministry’s int’l finance dept., repatriated from Costa Rica to serve 7-year sentence

Tom Jones 13.10.2011
 | na serveru Lidovky.cz | aktuální zprávy foto: © ČESKÁPOZICE, ČTKČeská pozice

Karel Ponocný, former head of the Czech finance ministry’s international financial relations department, and businessman Anton Murárik were found guilty in 2007 of fraud for diverting funds paid by the Peruvian state in a repayment of a loan. Before the trial Ponocný fled to Costa Rica, where he was arrested in 2009, and has since been fighting a legal battle to avoid repatriation.

In 2007, Murárik and Ponocný (in absentia) were found guilty of fraud for informing then-Deputy Finance Minister Ladislav Zelinka that a debt of Kč 46 million owed by Peru to the Czech state remained outstanding. Murárik then told Zelinka that he could attempt to recover the outstanding debt with the help of his brother’s firm in Bolivia.

Zelinka responded by signing a contract between the Finance Ministry and a Bolivian firm in September 2001. 

Murárik later informed Zelinka that his brother’s firm had made progress, but it would be impossible to recuperate the entire debt and the Peruvian state would only return a symbolic amount. In 2002, Zelinka therefore signed an amendment to the original contract agreeing that finance ministry would accept just 5 percent of the Kč 46 million Peruvian debt. 

But the Peruvian debt in question not longer existed.

Prior to joining the ministry, Ponocný worked in the ČSOB bank, where he was in responsible for releasing blocked funds and among other things oversaw Kč 46 million transferred by the Peruvian state in the 1990s to pay off a debt to the Czech Republic.

A few months after the amendment to the contract between the ministry and Murárik’s Bolivian firm was signed, Ponocný, in his capacity as head of the international financial relations department, ordered the transfer of 95 percent of the Kč 46 million from the Peruvian state be paid into a bank account opened by Murárik. As a result, only Kč 2.3 million of the funds transferred by Peru were paid into the Czech state coffers.

Murárik withdrew $200,000 from the account and sent the rest of the Kč 43 million to foreign accounts.

When the scheme was uncovered, Ponocný was suspended pending legal proceedings and shortly thereafter fled abroad, while Zelinka was forced to resign as deputy finance minister.

Having married a Costa Rican, gained citizenship and and set up home in San José, Ponocný was arrested on an Interpol warrant in 2009 upon the request of Czech Ministry of Justice. He finally lost his fight against extradition and was escorted to the Czech Republic, where he arrived on Thursday.

Commenting on Ponocný’s repatriation on Thursday, Czech Justice  Minister Jiří Pospíšil praised the legal cooperation with Costa Rica, which he said was remarkable considering there is no bilateral extradition treaty between the Central American country and the Czech Republic.

“Although the process of the extradition of Karel Ponocný may appear to be long, in comparison with the length of extraditions from other states in Central and South America it is a marked success,” he told the Czech News Agency (ČTK).