First Attempt to Create Autonomous Region in Romania, Prague City Mayor Fears Poisoning by Russian Agents

While Covid-19 takes all the headlines, deals are made and laws are passed, with hardly anyone noticing. Many will change our lives for years or forever. UnderCovid keeps track of these stories.
 
29 April 2020
 
Europe
 
Romania
A law that gives autonomy to the Szekely Land, the area in Central Romania inhabited by Szeklers, a subgroup of ethnic Hungarians, was passed by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Romania’s parliament. The law was not discussed as planned by 25 March 2020, but it passed through the so-called “tacit agreement” on 23 April 2020. That is a parliamentary procedure whereby laws are automatically passed if no MP opposes it formally. According to the law, which is yet to pass the Senate, the other parliamentary chamber, the Hungarian will be accepted as an official language in the Szekely Land, an area consisting of the Covasna and Harghita counties and parts of the Mures county in Romania. The sponsors of the law are the MPs Zsolt-Istvan Biro and József-György Kulcsar-Terza, both members of the UDMR, a Hungarian political party in Romania known to be in hock to Hungary’s government of Viktor Orban.
 
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A company close to Gheorghe Vlasie, the head of the local government in the county of Neamt, won a public contract of over €85m. The company, Mavgo Holding, was the sole bidder in the tender organized by the Neamt County Council. The contract covers modernization of several county roads. Vlasie is a member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
 
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A total of 23 municipality-controlled companies founded by the Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea have a budget in excess of RON 2.82bn (€581m) for 2020. The companies expect to have a combined staff of 10,278 employees by the end of the year. Their salary expenses are likely to reach some RON 644m (€132m) this year. The wage of people in the boards and top management of these companies is close to RON 20m (€4m) a year. The legality of these companies has been disputed by the opposition.
 
Czechia
The mayor of Prague, Zdenek Hrib, confirmed that he was put under police protection following reports published in the Czech media about plans by the Russian authorities to poison. Respekt, a Czech newspaper wrote that a Russian agent carrying the poison ricin arrived in the country in early April 2020. Hrib has recently backed a decision to change the name of the square outside the Russian embassy to Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader who was assassinated. The city hall also removed earlier this month the statue of Ivan Konev, a Russian World War Two military hero, a decision that visibly irked the Russian government.
 
Denmark
The Danish government approved the construction of an underwater tunnel to Germany, which is an expected investment of €7bn. The Fehmarnbelt 18-km tunnel is expected to reduce travel time between Denmark and Germany to just a few minutes. Construction works on the tunnel are primed to start in Denmark on 1 January 2021. The underwater tunnel is expected to be completed in mid-2029.
 
Latvia
Former board members at the now defunct bank Latvijas Krājbanka (Latvian Savings Bank) are likely to be asked to pay back some €15 million for alleged management failures. The Saeima deputy Mārtiņš Bondars is among those targeted. Bondars is head of the Saeima budget and finance committee.
 
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The State Revenue Service (VID) launched investigations into Binders, a prominent Latvian owned road construction company. The investigations target the company’s transactions with a less known Lithuanian company owned by a Latvian hotelier that went bust some two decades ago.
 
Finland
Finnish-owned telecom equipment maker Nokia announced yesterday that it signed a multi-year contract with Airtel, one of India's largest mobile operators, to cooperate in the development of the 5G network in India. The value of the contract is close to US$ 1bn.

 
Hungary
The German engineering giant Bosch announced that it will terminate contracts with more than 800 workers at its automotive electronics factory in Hatvan, a town 56 km east of Budapest.
 
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The Hungarian government has centralized into one office all the communications about the pandemic and is filtering the release of information about Covid-19, according to a report released by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), an NGO. The report claims that people, especially healthcare workers, do not speak about the pandemic to journalists as they are afraid of being fired. The report also expects the new Coronavirus bill, a law that controls communication during the pandemic, will lead to more self-censorship among journalists. In the meantime, the opposition Democratic Coalition has filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to reveal how many people have been tested for Covid-19 in Hungary.
 
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Plans by authorities in Bosnia & Herzegovina to deport all “economic migrants” to their countries of origin led to a dispute with Pakistan embassy. Local authorities and the embassy argued about lack of cooperation in the process of identifying Pakistani citizens now residing in Bosnia & Herzegovina whom Bosnian authorities claim are illegal migrants. The Bosnian security ministry said that more than 3,000 people should be deported to Pakistan.
 
Ukraine
The Supreme Court delayed a hearing in the lawsuits involving the state-owned PrivatBank and the families of businessmen Ihor and Hryhoriy Surkis. The delays was a result of the “pressure by the media,” the court alleged. The case is expected to bring to a final decision the struggle between the bank, which was nationalized in 2016, and its former owners.
 
Poland
Poland’s largest oil refiner, PKN Orlen, is expected to take over the state-run utility Energa. Orlen, also state-owned, is paying close to PLN 3bn (€662m) for over 80% of the shares in Energa.
 
Moldova
The magistrates of the Constitutional Court (CC) published a joint statement on the court’s website, in which they reject accusations that they act in line with the interests of various local clans. They also denied that the court was politically captured. Political parties argued a criminal group was trying to take over the Constitutional Court by changing its chair.
 
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The leader of the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), Maia Sandu, demanded that those responsible for negotiating and signing a loan agreement with the Russian Federation be held criminally liable. Sandu notified the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office about it. PAS is a liberal, pro-EU party.
 
Kosovo
The Kosovo Specialist Prosecution in The Hague has filed new indictments of unnamed suspects of crimes committed during and just after the Kosovo war. A pre-trial judge is expected in the next stage to review the charges.
 
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The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti sacked his adviser Shkelzen Gashi, a history and politics expert for saying that fighters associated with the Kosovo Liberation Army committed crimes during the 1998-1999 war.
 
Russia
Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar said on Monday that the population gave him the mandate to start an assault to seize the city of Tripoli. The decision drew concerned reactions from Russia, which is accused of supporting through military contractors Haftar’s forces in their offensive against Libya’s UN-backed government.
 
Belgium
Potato growers in Belgium urged their citizens to eat fries at least twice a week. The potato farmer union Belgapom described the issue as a matter of survival. They say that because exports of potatoes stopped, some 750,000 tonnes of potatoes are piled up in Belgian warehouses.
 
Asia
 
South Korea
As the health of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s communist dictator is reportedly deteriorating, his uncle Kim Pyong-il was mentioned as a possible successor. Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong is not likely to be accepted by the country’s male-dominated communist power machine.
 
China
The Chinese authorities are planning to introduce in June 2020 a new set of regulations that will require purchases of critical information infrastructure to go through a cybersecurity review. The measures are likely to deter Chinese companies from working with foreign suppliers. It’s not clear yet what types of companies will be included in the category of “critical information infrastructure operators,” but sectors such as telecommunications, energy, transport, finance, healthcare and social security, defense equipment manufacturing and technology are most likely to be targeted by the new rules.
 
Cambodia
Parkson, a Malaysian owned retail chain operating in a spate of Asian markets was ordered by a court to pay US$ 144.5m to a company owned by Cambodia Development Co Ltd (HCDC), a company controlled by Okhna Othsman Hassan. A local politician and businessman, Othsman Hassan won the case following Parkson's failed attempt to develop a mall in Cambodia.
 
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Authorities in Cambodia are going ahead with plans to introduce a law on Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT). The act is aimed at curbing money laundering in Cambodia.
 
Latin America
 
Argentina
Argentina announced that it banned all internal and international commercial flights until 1 September 2020. The country’s authorities said airlines should not sell tickets for flights planned for the next four months. Aviation industry groups warned that such measures can lead to losses of more than 300,000 jobs. Many countries in South America have already halted commercial flights, but none has thus far extended the ban for as long as Argentina.
 
Film
A total of 20 major film festivals, including Berlin, Cannes, Toronto and Venice, BFI London Film Festival, Jerusalem, Mumbai and Marrakech film festivals as well as the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festival announced that they would join forces to organize an online event. We Are One: A Global Film Festival, is scheduled to take places as of 29 May 2020 on YouTube for a total of 10 days.
 
UFOs
The Pentagon on Monday released three declassified videos showing U.S. Navy pilots that encountered what appeared to be unidentified flying objects. According to the Pentagon, the videos feature “unexplained aerial phenomena.”
 
Investments
European technology startups are going to have access to fresh financing after the launch earlier this week of an US$ 100m venture capital fund by the investment firm Partech Ventures. The new Partech Entrepreneur III fund is designed to provide rounds of financing from pre-seed to series A, meaning from several hundred thousand euros to several million euros per company.
 
Airlines
European airlines are refusing to provide refunds to customers whose flights were cancelled due to coronavirus in spite of European Union (EU) regulations ordering them to do so. According to EU legal provisions, travelers should get a refund within seven days, a rule that the majority of airlines ignore it in spite of massive bailouts that they receive from national governments.
 
In the picture: Zdenek Hrib (photo: Pravo)
 
Browse through older UnderCovid editions:
UnderCovid 24 April 2020
UnderCovid 23 April 2020
UnderCovid 22 April 2020
UnderCovid 21 April 2020
UnderCovid 20 April 2020
UnderCovid 17 April 2020
UnderCovid 16 April 2020
UnderCovid 15 April 2020
UnderCovid 14 April 2020
UnderCovid 11 April 2020
UnderCovid 9 April 2020
UnderCovid 8 April 2020
UnderCovid 7 April 2020
 
Started in early April 2020 with a focus on Europe and several CIS countries, UnderCovid has grown into a news monitoring service with global coverage, published weekly. Its focus is on key legal, political and business developments that go unnoticed because of the heavy Covid-19 coverage. For more details and investigations into the topics covered by UnderCovid, send us an email.
 

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