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SOCIETY: How we spend our free time
The Public Opinion Research Center at the Sociological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences has published its latest study of how Czechs spend their free time, indicating that reading magazines is the most popular activity – 70% of respondents open a magazine at least once a week. Only 40% read books to relax. Only about 30% regularly engage in sports once a week, while an equal percentage abstain from exercise entirely. 27% of the populace spend free time on education and foreign language study, and most have college degrees. Compared to the mid-nineties, contacts with friends and acquaintances have ebbed a bit, while theater attendance is slightly up.

ECONOMY: Cracking down on fraud
In 2003, the state lost CZK 1.9 billion due to tax underpayments, and nearly the same figure chalked up to failure to pay taxes and insurance. A new institution employing a staff of 300 will begin its work this July, in a move to prevent such damage. Finance police investigators will look into money laundering, the most serious tax delinquents, and property concealment by defrauders. As opposed to Anti-Corruption Section officials, these police will have new authority. For instance, they’ll be able to look at tax records, which until now could be done only with the consent of a state prosecutor. They’ll also have the power to freeze property prior to the beginning of prosecutions.

FINANCE: Mortgages get sophisticated

Do you want to buy a new car and need to borrow money for it? With a new type of loan, it’ll cost less than with ordinary consumer loans. This year many Czech banks are trying to offer an interesting credit financing option, so-called “American mortgages” – i.e., mortgage loans using other real estate as collateral. Assets acquired can be used to buy co-op apartments, which can’t be done with standard mortgages, but also for financing studies abroad or family vacations. Raiffeisenbank has been offering such mortgages since mid-December, 2003. Interest for such mortgages are higher than those for standard mortgages, but still lower than ordinary consumer loans, with interest rates starting at 8%. With Raiffeisenbank, for example, American mortgage interest rates start at 5.74%, and CZK 100,000 (and up) can be borrowed, according to Romana Kubálková of the bank’s press department.

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