BUSINESS

Czech betting firms embezzled millions; Jagr in Sazka pseudo-porn campaign

TAGs: czech republic, Helvet, Jaromir Jagr, Merkur, Russia, Sazka, ukraine

czech-betting-sazka-jagrFormer deputy prosecutor Alexander Ignatenko will be extradited to Russia from Poland to face charges related to the operation of illegal casinos in the Moscow area. Casinos in Russia are restricted to four far-flung geographic regions, but last year Moscow police uncovered a ring of 15 local casinos, from which Ignatenko was allegedly receiving kickbacks. On Jan. 1, Ignatenko was arrested at a Polish ski resort carrying forged travel documents. A lower court ordered him sent back to Russia to face the music, but Ignatenko appealed. Now the Krakow Appeals Court has upheld the lower court’s ruling, so it’s off to the gulag for Iggy.

If you think Russia’s stance on gambling is rough, you don’t want to live in the Ukraine. In 2009, the country banned pretty much all forms of gambling except lotteries and last month their parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor (by a margin of 340 to 73) of restricting the civil rights of ‘gambling abusers.’ The term is loosely defined as someone who spends most of their income on gambling, sells possessions to fund his gambling habit, or whose gambling puts his family in a tight economic spot. These sorry individuals will have limited control over their private property and government minders will monitor their spending habits. SURE, communism is dead…

A little further west, the Czech Republic’s Finance Ministry has accused two local betting outfits of “effectively embezzling” hundreds of millions of crowns that were supposed to go to charities. Until this year, Czech betting firms were exempted from corporate or gambling taxes, provided they donated a certain percentage of their revenues to charity. Precisely which charities received this gambling-related bounty was left to the betting firms’ discretion. Now the government’s Financial Analytical Unit (FAU) claims some betting firms made a practice of donating to registered but dormant charities, then secretly withdrawing the sums and returning them to the company coffers.

According to Czech newspaper Hospodářské noviny, the two main culprits cited in the FAU’s 2011 annual report are the Helvet Group and Merkur Casino. Helvet is accused of ‘diverting’ Kč140m ($7.5m) to charities that either (a) ceased activity before the ‘donations’ were made, or (b) don’t appear to have ever done much of anything beyond register as a charity. Merkur is accused of misappropriating Kč100m ($5.35m) to similarly sketchy outfits. It’s become something of a tradition when the annual reports are filed for the Czech media to voice suspicions of charitable donations going astray, which has some wondering what took the government this long to file a criminal complaint. Neither company has yet publicly commented on the charges.

Finally, there are many who consider Czech hockey great Jaromir Jagr’s infamous mullet to have been a crime against humanity. That said, Jagr’s a sports icon in his homeland, which is why Czech betting firm Sazka hired the mullet man as its spokesman (there’s also the fact that Jagr was a bit of a degen gambling legend during his early years in the National Hockey League). Anyway, one of Sazka’s new marketing spots features Jagr as a fireman who shows up at a sexy lady birthday party with his, um, hose at the ready. The other spot in the campaign features Jagr delivering a pizza to some other sexy ladies. Seriously, it’s like Sazka’s entire marketing campaign is based on porn plots. But hey, when your spokesman has a proven track record of hitting the five-hole…

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