PRAGUE, Czech Republic (CNNfn) - The allure of the forbidden is noticeably absent from the Café Praha, located in the Corinthian Towers lobby. But just one coffee there could be enough to land Americans in jail for years.|
Less than 200 feet away, the Towers offer the closest refuge from the lengthy discussions and bureaucratic culture of this week's IMF-World Bank meetings. Conscientious Americans, however, must refresh themselves on someone else's bill or face a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in jail. The Towers, part of the Maltese-based Corinthia Group, violate U.S. sanctions. Libyan investors have a 48 percent controlling interest in the hotel chain.
Prior to this week's meetings, the U.S. Embassy in Prague issued a statement warning Americans that "they should treat the Corinthia Towers as properties owned and/or controlled by the Government of Libya. Financial transactions with those establishments, including payment for lodging, drinks, and meals, are prohibited by U.S. law."
Yet nothing in the hotel belies its "Libyan-ness", and if an unsuspecting American had not read the Embassy's message, they might think they were in an unremarkable place. Inside the tall, reflecting tower, the décor, even the piped music, are in the style of upscale hotel chains around the world. The homogenization of the elite traveler.
This, more than anything discussed inside the congress center, is the great symbol of "globalization" that IMF Deputy Stanley Fischer lauds and certain protesters despise. Here is a Maltese-based, partly Libyan-owned hotel offering French and U.S. newspapers, catering dinners hosted by British Finance Minister Gordon Brown and conferences by German banks, all with workers from the Czech Republic speaking beautiful English.
Ban 'hasn't hurt business'
Nowhere is there a sign warning Americans. Doormen, who, along with the beefed up city police, check IMF badges and hotel keys, do not tell Americans that they may be in flagrant violation of U.S. laws if they buy anything inside. Though, when asked, all staff members will say, with a smile, that they are aware of the U.S. ban.
Hotel staff say business has not suffered, and confide that Americans may have bought drinks at the bar or even spent the night.
Other United Nations countries have ended their penalties against Libya since the Libyan government's cooperation in the trial of two of its nationals in connection with the Pam Am crash over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. The U.S. maintains sanctions against Libya through its Office Foreign Assets Control in the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Defiant Americans might have the wind taken out of their sails if they wish to take a political stand - Czech authorities cannot arrest or prosecute offenders. Besides no one at the hotel appears to be keeping tabs on the nationality of its customers.
--Heather Bourbeau is a freelance reporter for CNNfn.com