ZAMBIAN OFFICIAL DEMANDS THREE ACCUSED CZECH SPIES WHO SKIPPED BAIL AND FLED TO HOMELAND RETURN FOR TRIAL

Kennedy Sakeni, Zambia’s Interior Minister, has called on three Czech nationals who were to go on trial for espionage there this month, but jumped bail in December and subsequently turned up in their native Czech Republic, to go back and stand trial. Michal Vebr, Jiri Cetel, and Jan Coufal, employees of a Dutch exhibition logistics firm, were on a stopover in Zambia last October, following a business trip to South Africa, when they were arrested on suspicion of spying because of photographs they snapped outside military locations and the presidential palace. Diplomatic negotiations undertaken by the Czech government on behalf of the trio proved unsuccessful in securing their release. Vebr, Cetel, and Coufal were later granted bail but their passports were confiscated. The Czech Foreign Ministry revealed on January 1 that the three had come home but did not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding their departure from Zambia. The latter country’s state radio in turn carried accounts of the escape of the purported spies to their homeland. Mr. Sakeni announced that a special police investigation was underway to ascertain exactly what had transpired. Intelligence experts have speculated that the getaway of Vebr, Cetel, and Coufal very probably was effected by means of false passports or an embassy vehicle.

Official Czech reaction to the current situation has for the most part fallen silent, with the Foreign Ministry and that country’s intelligence agencies declining comment. while Prime Minister Petr Necas emphasized that the highly confidential nature of the case precluded any disclosures. However, Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil declared that the three men will not face extradition to Zambia. He explained that the national constitution bars the involuntary extradition of Czech citizens abroad. Vebr, Cetel, and Coufal would be subject to extradition should there be the issuance of an international arrest warrant and travel outside the Czech Republic. Minister Pospisil stated that no extradition request had been made by the Zambian government. A strong possibility exists that the three Czechs will be tried in absentia and thereafter could be sentenced to a maximum of thirty years in prison if found guilty.


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