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ČSSD must pay over CZK 300m to lawyer, court rules

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Prague, March 31 (CTK) – The Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) has to pay 18.5 million crowns and a contractual fine of over 300 million crowns to defence lawyer Zdenek Altner for his services in a court dispute over the ownership of the Lidovy dum building in Prague, the Prague Municipal Court decided yesterday.
The court’s spokeswoman Marketa Puci said the verdict has taken effect and cannot be appealed.
The CSSD, headed by Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, can lodge an appellate review request with the Supreme Court. The request, however, would not suspend the enforcement of yesterday’s verdict.
The server, which reported about the affair yesterday, said the verdict means a dramatic blow to the CSSD ahead of the autumn regional and Senate elections.
The CSSD’s annual budget has been about 200 million crowns in the past years (175 million in 2015).
In the years when elections were held, the party’s expenditures climbed up to 300 million (290 million in 2013).
In 2015, the CSSD reached profit of about 27 million crowns. In 2014, when local and Senate elections were held, the party ended in a 47.5-million crown loss.
The dispute started when Altner raised his claim for the financial reward 16 years ago. The contractual fine for the CSSD to pay has crossed 300 million in the meantime.
The Lidovy dum historical complex of buildings in the centre of Prague hosts the CSSD headquarters.
“Of course, the CSSD will respect the court’s definitive ruling. Nevertheless, we will wait for the text of the verdict to be delivered to us in order to study it thoroughly,” CSSD spokeswoman Eva Gregorova said in a press release.
She said the CSSD will undoubtedly seek an appellate review.
The case dates back to 1997 when the CSSD signed a contract with Altner on his legal assistance in the party’s dispute over Lidovy dum. The contract granted Altner a contractual reward worth 10 percent of Lidovy dum’s value if he succeeded in pushing through the CSSD’s claim to it.
The CSSD said yesterday that the contract was negotiated with Altner by the party’s former deputy chairman Ivo Svoboda and signed by its former chairman Milos Zeman.
Zeman, who fell out with the CSSD in the mid-2000s, has been Czech president since March 2013.
Zeman’s spokesman Jiri Ovcacek told journalists yesterday that he would not comment on the court ruling because it is a matter of the CSSD and Altner.
“However, it is necessary to remember the 1990s, when the CSSD faced a real threat of Lidovy dum and the adjacent buildings not being returned it,” Ovcacek said.
Reestablished after the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the CSSD claimed the property that belonged to it in the past.
The CSSD succeeded with its claim in 2000, when courts definitively confirmed its ownership of Lidovy dum.
The CSSD says it previously paid almost 17 million crowns to Altner in accordance with the contract.
However, Altner claimed further money worth many millions of crowns. That is why he filed a lawsuit against the CSSD in 2000, triggering the dispute in which the definitive verdict was ruled yesterday.
Another dispute, also linked to the Lidovy house case, has been underway between the CSSD and lawyer Vaclav Halbich, who seeks a reward of 17 million crowns from the party for having helped it gain Lidovy dum together with Altner and another lawyer, Zdenek Hajek.
The main sources of the CSSD’s revenues are the state subsidies for the party’s activities, derived from its number of seats in parliament and regional assemblies (133 million crowns in 2015), and also the subsidies aimed to help cover the party’s election expenses (101.7 million after the general election in 2013, 6.4 million after the EU polls in 2014).
Another source are the membership fees (record 25.2 million crowns in 2014), the sale of property (21 million in 2015) and gifts (1.8 million in 2015).
The CSSD’s debts currently reach 206 million crowns, 160 million of which the party owes to its own Cil company.
The CSSD has been gradually reducing its debts, which stood at 325 million crowns in 2010.
The CSSD, with 50 seats in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies, is the strongest party in parliament.
Previously, it was the senior government partner in 1998-2006.
($1=23.896 crowns)

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