Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek resigns from office, blames the press

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Local Development Jiri Cunek on Wednesday resigned from his posts in the centre-right cabinet saying that he did not want the financial scandal surrounding him to weaken the governing coalition. He left in fighting spirit, having defended his post at the head of the Christian Democrats and blaming the press for his downfall.

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
Is he a victim or a politician totally lacking in scruples? In the wake of numerous scandals, a corruption investigation and allegations that he had abused the country's welfare system, many of the Christian Democrats who assembled to hear the party leader's explanation were uncertain. Four hours later the party leadership once again closed ranks around him. Jiri Cunek convinced them that he was innocent of any wrong-doing and had been hounded out of office by the media.

"The Czech TV report which set this scandal in motion was biased and untrue. This whole affair has been artificially created in order to damage me. I can only say what I have said repeatedly in the past - I am innocent of any wrong-doing."

In relation to the scandal surrounding alleged abuse of welfare benefits, Mr. Cunek explained that he had been fully entitled to them since part of the 3.5 million crowns he had in the bank belonged to his cousin with whom he was planning to start a business. He produced the respective certificates and the cousin in person. As to why he had not explained the matter sooner, Mr. Cunek said he had not wanted to impose on his relatives who would have been dragged through the mud by the press. Regarding the investigation of corruption which the state attorney recently re-opened, Mr. Cunek said he could now clear his name without suspicion of political intervention. Following his address, no one at the 100-member conference proposed that Jiri Cunek should quit his post as chairman.

Jiri Cunek and Mirek Topolanek, photo: CTK
Moreover Mr. Cunek received moral support from a most unexpected quarter - the prime minister himself. After giving Mr. Cunek the option "to resign of his own accord or be dismissed", Prime Minister Topolanek has shown his deputy a benevolent face, saying that if he cleared his name he could return to office. The prime minister moreover took another shot at Czech Television saying that its reports concerning Jiri Cunek had been manipulative and unfair. "Czech Television no longer behaves like a public broadcaster", the prime minister said in an interview for the commercial radio station Impuls. Just a day or two ago political commentators predicted that this scandal would be the end of the road for Jiri Cunek. Amazingly he has not only managed to save face but has turned the tables on the country's public broadcaster - Czech Television.