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Energy office head sentenced to jail over fraudulent licence

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Brno, Feb 22 (CTK) – The Regional Court in Brno sentenced on Monday Alena Vitaskova, chairwoman of the Energy Regulatory Office (ERU), to 8.5 years in prison for the ERU’s irregular granting of licences to two solar power plants in north Bohemia.

The granting of the licences to the still incomplete plants in late 2010 unrightfully guaranteed their owners the then high buy-out prices of electricity supplied to the grid, which eventually decreased as from 2011.

Vitaskova, 59, dismissed any wrongdoing in the past.

She did not attend the court proceedings on Monday. In reaction to the verdict, she said he will appeal it, which her defence did immediately. By no means is she going to resign as ERU head, Vitaskova said.

The verdict has not taken effect.

The two solar plants in Chomutov, north Bohemia, belong to the sons of Zdenek Zemek Sr, a billionaire and entrepreneur in the engineering industry.

Apart from Vitaskova, the court found another nine persons guilty and imposed prison sentences from 5.5 to 8.5 years in prison on them, plus fines worth millions of crowns.

Judge Ales Novotny said the two power plants, Sasa-sun and Zdenek-sun, were granted licence unrightfully based on false revision reports.

In late 2010, technicians issued a report declaring the solar plants capable of operation though they knew that the plants were still incomplete and still under construction.

Another technician later used the same report, only with a changed date, to confirm the plants’ capability of operation.

The ERU later launched proceedings on reopening the licensing prodecure, which threatened to withdraw the two suspicious licences. The proceedings, however, were halted by Vitaskova on the recommendation from the then ERU licensing section head Michaela Schneiderova.

The judge said Vitaskova met Schneiderova’s advice though she knew that the revision reports were suspicious and that Schneiderova used to be a friend of Zemek Sr in the past.

According to the criminal file, the irregular steps have caused up to 2 billion crowns worth of damage to the state to date.

The Zemek brothers were given 7.5 years in prison and fined 7 million crowns each.

Schneiderova was given 8.5 years in prison.

The four technicians involved were given lower sentences.

The two power plants were granted the licences on December 31, 2010, a few hours before a sharp decline in the buy-out prices of power supplied by solar producers.

If Vitaskova were definitively convicted, she would end as ERU chairwoman regardless of the ongoing dispute over whether she falls under the energy law, based on which she was instated in the post in 2011, or the new civil service law.

Vitaskova claims to fall under the energy law. According to it, her conviction of a deliberate crime would be incompatible with her post of ERU head.

The Interior Ministry previously said Vitaskova falls under the civil service law that took effect last year and that binds civil servants to step down if facing criminal prosecution.

Under the energy law, the ERU chairperson is appointed and dismissed by the president.

President Milos Zeman, who backed Vitaskova in her disputes with the government in the past, said yesterday he would not comment on her sentence until a definitive verdict is issued.

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