Czech TV: Cunek deposited millions in bank accounts while accepting welfare

Jiri Cunek

Controversy has dogged deputy prime minister and head of the Christian Democrats Jiri Cunek since he first entered high politics. In 2006 he was accused of accepting a 500,000-crown bribe in a case dating back to when he was mayor of the town of Vsetin, an investigation that was stopped only after several months due to lack of evidence. Now, scandal is threatening Mr Cunek again. On Monday Czech TV's flagship news magazine "Reporters" revealed it had information Mr Cunek and his family received social subsidies at a time when he had millions in the bank.

Jiri Cunek
Jiri Cunek is no stranger to controversy but until now he has weathered all past political storms. But the latest could potentially be the worst: as one Czech daily has suggested this one could threaten "to knock him out of high politics". On Monday public broadcaster Czech TV broadcast an "expose" revealing that Mr Cunek and his family of five had allegedly received thousands in state subsidies at a time when he deposited 3.5 million crowns in the bank. Officially Mr Cunek was earning less than 20,000 a month. But cornered by Czech TV's reporter, the politician refused to be pressed on details.

"I will not discuss information from before 1998 as it is not at all important because I was not a politician at that time."

Nor is he required to disclose such information to the media, says Michal Sticka of the Czech branch of Transparency International:

Michal Sticka
"There is no law which would set forth such a duty: politicians do not really have to disclose their past dealings and past businesses. On the other hand, politicians enter the public sphere and therefore should be transparent regarding their past businesses. The public requires or the public expects that politicians will approach their positions with honest mind."

Regardless, questions over Mr Cunek's past dealings are now unlikely to go away. According to Czech TV's report, if Mr Cunek failed to disclose extensive funds while applying for state support, he may have broken the law. Further, the broadcaster has cast doubt over whether the 3.5 million in the bank were ever declared for taxes. And there are still further curious details that have seemingly cast doubt on the politician's "credibility": why were the funds spread over three accounts in two different towns? Why did Mr Cunek use a national identity card which he had previously reported stolen? And what was the exact source of the funds? The cloud over Mr Cunek's head now seems unlikely to dissipate. Michal Sticka of Transparency International once again:

"Definitely it has a well... damaging effect on the reputation of the government and definitely Mr Cunek."

Not surprisingly, the deputy prime minister has already responded and he has said he will sue Czech TV for its report. In a statement on Tuesday he denied ever receiving social benefits other than birth and child allowances and he made clear he would not comment on the case further as it was now a legal matter.