CEZ’s Svoboda Makes Rare Appearance

19. Juni 2006, 00:00

Alan Svoboda, former vice chairman of the board at energy provider CEZ , appeared in the public eye for the first...

Alan Svoboda, former vice chairman of the board at energy provider CEZ, appeared in the public eye for the first time since April, when he was forced to resign from the board after being charged with insider trading.

Svoboda, who still remains in management as executive director for sales and trading but has taken a leave of absence, represented CEZ at an energy conference in Cannes, France.

Speaking ahead of a G8 summit on energy supply security scheduled next month, Svoboda tipped nuclear power as the best chance for future energy supplies in the Visegrad Four group, which includes the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.

“Nuclear power is the only option in these countries in order not to be in the hands of gas suppliers,” Svoboda said.

Security of supply has shot to the top of the EU’s agenda this year following the interruption of gas supplies from Russia during a dispute with transit country Ukraine in January. Coupled with rising oil prices, this has pushed European governments to start looking inward for future fuel supplies. The Czech Republic relies on Russia for 75 per cent of its natural gas.

Domestically, brown coal remains the cornerstone of the energy giant CEZ’s plant fleet. However, a decision is also set for this year on the construction of new nuclear reactors.

Nuclear power in the Czech Republic is seen as politically acceptable and got another green light last month, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Austrian courts had no jurisdiction over Czech nuclear power, thus ending long-running lawsuits against CEZ’s nuclear plant Temelin, in South Bohemia, some 60 kilometers from the Austrian border.

Austrian activists had argued that the plant was unsafe and should be shut down, a claim ultimately not recognised in Czech courts.

“What we expect is a boom of nuclear power in the region,” Svoboda said at the industry conference. “It will be a trigger to reviewing attitudes to nuclear power in the EU.”

Svoboda’s presence at the conference doesn’t mark a return to work, as his duties have been taken over by two other managers, said CEZ spokesman Ladislav Kriz. “Participation at the conference was already agreed in January this year,” he said.

Svoboda remains on leave to handle his legal affairs, which involve insider trading charges brought in April. Svoboda had purchased 7,500 CEZ shares in April 2005, one trading day ahead of quarterly results. Two weeks later, Svoboda bought an additional 10,000 shares, then sold the whole package in June, earning CZK 1.63 million (EUR 58,000). Svoboda has said he hadn’t known what the results would be, and that the share price actually fell in the weeks following the announcement.

CEZ still stands behind Svoboda, Kriz noted. “The CEZ board is convinced that Mr. Svoboda acted in full compliance with Czech law,” he said.

If convicted of the charges, Svoboda faces jail time of up to eight years. However, no trial date has been set, according to Martin Omelka, spokesman for the Prague State Attorney’s Office. “The case is still being investigated, which means it hasn’t been taken over by the court yet,” he said.

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