Charges against Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek dropped, questions remain

Jiří Čunek

On Tuesday, those prosecuting Deputy Prime Minister, Jiri Cunek, on charges of corruption, called a halt to the investigation. Jiri Cunek, who is also the Minister of regional development, and the chairman of the Christian Democrats, can now get on with his political career. But questions remain. The scandal has left Czechs asking what really happened in the Cunek case, and whether corruption is really dealt with in the right way in this country. Jan Richter has more.

Jiri Cunek
The corruption case involving Jiri Cunek broke in December last year. The daily Mlada Fronta Dnes reported on a police investigation involving bribes allegedly accepted by Mr Cunek, the former mayor of the North Moravian town of Vsetin. Meanwhile, though, Jiri Cunek was elected the chairman of the Christian Democrats and in January 2007, he became the deputy prime minister in the centre-right government formed by Mr Topolanek. His rise to power is seen by some analysts as the principal factor that had a significant impact on how his case has been handled. Michal Sticka of Transparency International Czech Republic.

Michal Sticka
"The prosecutor's decision to halt corruption proceedings against Mr Cunek is definitely bad news for the Czech general public. We suppose that this decision opens the door to speculation that the Czech repression system, i.e. the police and the state prosecution, is biased towards politicians and people who hold certain positions in the state or belong to the Czech elite."

The accusation raised against Mr Cunek was straight-forward. In 2002, he put CZK 500,000 (almost USD 25,000) into his personal account only a few days after the same amount was withdrawn by a real estate company which frequently did business with the Vsetin town hall. Mr Cunek's secretary told the police that the mayor had bragged to her about the money. After six months of investigation that put Jiri Cunek as well as Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek under considerable pressure from the opposition, Supreme State Prosecutor Renata Vesecka took the case from Prerov, where it regionally belonged, and assigned it to a state prosecutor in Jihlava. This move in particular raised suspicion that the supreme state prosecutor was acting on political incentives. I asked analyst Jan Urban if he thought this was the crucial point in the whole affair.

"If you have burnt the soup, as we say in Czech, it does not matter what you do at the end, it will not be tasty. The case was wrecked from the very beginning. It was highly politicized by the police, by the media, by the political parties involved. The transfer of the case by the state prosecution was just one wrong step made in this case. It definitely was not fair."

The prosecution's decision to stop the investigation, and even to send the detective responsible before an interior ministry tribuneral, leaves a sour aftertaste. Mr Cunek never plausibly explained where the money he saved in his account came from, and some of his supporters even pressured witnesses to testify in his favour. While Mr Cunek's case is now officially closed, the affair reflects poorly on how corruption is fought in the highest circles of Czech politics. Michal Sticka of Transparency International.

"There are certain things that make us think that the investigation was not carried out in a standard way. We think the message is pretty clear - there is a group of people who are untouchable."