Czech prosecutors seek long jail term for energy regulator in solar fraud case

By bne IntelliNews December 9, 2015

Czech state prosecutor Radek Mezlik is seeking a nine-year sentence in a solar fraud case for the head of the Czech Energy Regulatory Office (ERU), Alena Vitaskova, local media reported on December 9.

Vitaskova is accused of illegally granting licences to two solar power plants causing billions of koruna damage to the state, CTK reports. The case concerns the Sasa-Sun and Zdenek-Sun power plants located near Chomutov, and owned by billionaire Zdenek Zemek, who controls Z-Group Steel Holding.

The plants were granted 20-year licences by ERU on December 31, 2010, only a few hours before new legislation came into force that saw state guarantees on the price of energy from solar power plants significantly reduced. Overly generous state subsidies for solar plants in the last decade saw installations mushroom, adding huge costs onto consumers for years to come.

Vitaskova denies any wrongdoing. She has led a campaign against state support systems for solar power and other renewable energy sources. She has accused government officials, some of the largest Czech companies and oligarchs, and managers within ERU itself, of corrupt practices in connection with the scheme. She also pushed through significant cuts in the regulated earnings of gas and electricity companies.

Vitaskova was charged with abuse of power in the summer over her appointment of what anti-corruption police claimed is an unqualified deputy at ERU. The regulator chief insists former state attorney Renata Vesecka is qualified and that she will fight the case. Mezlik claims the clearance of the solar power facilities saw Vitaskova and several others handed millions of crowns.

Vitaskova has fought many battles with Czech political figures since taking over at ERU in mid-2011, and also claims that at least one attempt has been made on her life. Appointed by former ODS PM Petr Necas, whose government fell in 2013, the ERU head has also attacked the gas and power industry via regulated tariffs and has taken on the growing bio-methane segment.

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