Economic journalist Miroslav Motejlek failed in a lawsuit against the decision of the Czech National Bank (CNB), which in 2016 imposed a million fine on it for violating the ban on market manipulation. The Prague City Court ruled on this on Monday. The CNB concluded that Motejlek manipulated the price of publicly traded shares of the telecommunications company O2. The journalist refuses.
The court agreed that Motejlek was able to influence the market on its own. According to Judge Kamil Tojner, the overlap of his opinions is higher than that of an ordinary journalist, due to his reputation, specialization and knowledge of insider information.
According to the CNB’s decision, Motejlek intentionally committed an offense under the Capital Market Business Act with misleading comments on the Facebook profile of motejlek.com. In August 2015, he published two articles there, which predicted a significant rise in the O2 share price. He cited his interview with the head of the O2 Supervisory Board as the reason for his opinion. However, the interview itself, which, according to the CNB, did not contain any fundamental information capable of significantly influencing the growth of the share price, was made available to the public only later.
“The plaintiff (Motejlek) was not sanctioned for his opinion. His contributions were tortious because information was provided that could reasonably be inferred that they were based on a relevant source of information: an interview with a member of the O2 Board of Directors. The original source information – this interview – was not public. “The information could not be verified. This manipulated the market,” the judge explained the rejection of the administrative action.
Motejlek denies the mistake, according to him, the bank interfered with his right to freedom of speech.
The CNB’s lawyer pointed out to the court that Motejlek acquired 70,000 O2 shares in 2015 before the publication of contributions for seven million crowns, so he was then motivated by the exchange rate. According to the CNB, on the day of the announcement of the trailer for the interview, the share price of O2 jumped by almost 12 percent, and a day later the shares strengthened by another seven percent.
“It referred to something that is not true,” the CNB lawyer said in his closing speech. “It gave the impression that (Motejlek) had an insight into society. Subsequently, it turned out that he did not have it,” he continued. At the same time, he strongly objected to the claim that the CNB was trying to silence journalists.
The former co-owner of the economic portal Motejlek.com argued, among other things, that the CNB had not proved at all that he was the real author of the contributions in question. Other people also had access to the profile. “Similar opinions have been published by others. It is not clear to me why the CNB sat on my client,” the journalist’s lawyer told the court.
He also criticized the amount of sanctions imposed. “For much worse breaches of duty, the CNB typically imposes far lower fines, even if they are professional securities dealers or banks. It is completely incomprehensible that she chose my client as a journalist to punish him in an exemplary manner,” he said. He asked the court to annul the CNB’s decision and return the case to her for further proceedings.
According to the court, however, the fine was not liquidating due to Motejlk’s property relations.
The fine for Motejlka was the second highest penalty ever imposed by the CNB on a natural person for trading in securities on the basis of non-public information or market manipulation (so-called insider trading). She only fined the former Deputy Chairman of the ČEZ Board of Directors, Alan Svoboda.