Christian Democrats stand by their man, but pressure growing on Cunek

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

The Christian Democrats leader Jiri Cunek seems to never be off the front pages these days, with a constant flow of allegations concerning his investigation on suspicion of bribe-taking when he was mayor of a town in Moravia. On Tuesday there was at least a little good news for the beleaguered Mr Cunek, when he received the public backing of his party. But the question remains: can he ride out the storm?

Jiri Cunek,  photo: CTK
Police are investigating allegations that Jiri Cunek took a half-million-crown (23,000 USD) bribe from a real estate company when he was mayor of the town of Vsetin. Mr Cunek says he can prove his innocence, though at different times he does appear to have given different explanations as to how he got the money.

The latest twist in the saga came with the arrest last week of three men, after Marcela Urbanova, Mr Cunek's former secretary and the chief witness in the investigation, said they offered her a bribe to withdraw her allegations.

One of them businessman Roman Vaskuj was charged on Monday. He admits trying to help Jiri Cunek, saying he met Ms Urbanova in the hope she would ask for a bribe and discredit herself. She, meanwhile, is being protected by the police at a secret location.

On Tuesday the leadership of Mr Cunek's party the Christian Democrats met to discuss the case. Afterwards they issued a one-line statement saying they trusted their chairman, who is also a deputy prime minister and minister for regional development.

That was a rare piece of good news for Mr Cunek. However, it has been undermined by press reports on Wednesday that some senior Christian Democrats had been opposed to a direct expression of support for the party leader.

Outside his own party, patience with Mr Cunek appears to be running out. Some cabinet members have expressed worries the affair could harm the government, in which the Christian Democrats are the second biggest party.

Environment Minister Martin Bursik has used perhaps the strongest language; he did not make a direct call for Mr Cunek to step down, but did say in the same situation all his Green Party colleagues would resign.

Throughout this whole affair Jiri Cunek has stood firm, insisting on his innocence and promising to fight to clear his name. But the way things are going, if and when the matter comes to court, there is a growing chance that the man in the dock will no longer be a member of the Czech government.