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Arms trade to be less-regulated

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Officials and secret services will have a tougher time trying to control the export of weapons, a billion-crown business in the Czech Republic. What’s more, the export of arms will remain hidden behind a shroud of bureaucratic secrecy, even though the risk that the weapons could end up in the wrong hands is very real.

Last week MPs approved an amendment to a law about gun trade. This means that companies that do not have official permission from the state will now be able to take part in arms trade. This includes companies that never had an official permit or that had their permits revoked.

The lower house took only a few minutes to vote on the amendment last week. “It seems that arms-trade lobbyists have been successful across the political spectrum,” said Green Party Deputy Kateřina Jacques, who opposes the amendment.

The transformation of the amendment is interesting. The changes were not originally part of the cabinet’s proposal; they were put forward by the Chamber of Deputies. But it’s impossible to find out who originally proposed them. “As far as I know, these changes were proposed by the cabinet,” said ODS deputy Jiří Čepelka, who was put in charge of tracking the amendment as it passed through the lower house.

“Yes, it was a proposal that came from the cabinet,” ČSSD deputy Antonín Seďa said. But on the Chamber of Deputies’ website, it clearly says that the amendment was proposed by the defence commission, which includes Čepelka and Seďa.

Several key words were taken out of the amendment. This includes a section stating that even informal negotiations can be considered to be a business relationship by state officials and police. This would have enabled the police to keep an eye on business transactions. “By taking this section out, we are limiting existing safety mechanisms,” Erik Geus, an MP who sits on the commission and who is also the deputy transport minister, said in March.

Concerns over where Czech-made weapons end up have appeared in the past. One example is a shipment of 100 Czech-made tanks to Georgia. Another is the case of missiles that may have ended up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

MPs voted against Jacques’ proposal that the name of the buyer and the seller and the type of weapons be public information. The only public information right now is how many licences were issued for the sale of weapons. According to statistics, 150 licences were issued last year, with deals totalling nearly half a billion euros. The Foreign Ministry is pushing for greater transparency, citing EU regulations. “The proposed amendment goes against existing EU laws,” ministry officials said.

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