Environment Minister Martin Bursik cleared of tax evasion charges

Martin Bursík, foto: ČTK

The police have halted an investigation of alleged fraud and tax evasion on the part of Martin Bursik, the environment minister and the head of the Green Party. The “case”, which had the potential of costing Mr Bursik his seat in the government, was based on an anonymous tip which prompted the police to look into the bills of a real estate company owned by the environment minister. On Monday, the prosecution said nothing indicated that Mr Bursik’s company breached the law.

Martin Bursik, photo: CTK
A day after Environment Minister Martin Bursik left for a UN conference on climate change held in Bali last week, the police received an anonymous tip concerning a real estate company Mr Bursik owns together with his brother. The firm had allegedly broken the law in several instances, committing fraud and tax evasion. On Monday, a day after Mr Bursik returned from the climate change conference, the investigation was dropped for lack of evidence. Stepanka Zenklova is the spokeswoman for the Prague prosecution.

“The police found nothing that would substantiate claims that a crime had been committed. The criminal proceedings against Mr Bursik were not justified from the start.”

According to the anonymous letter, Mr Bursik’s real estate company charged unusually low rents in buildings under its administration. It took the police seven days to establish that no such thing happened. In a country notorious for lengthy legal proceedings, the swiftness with which the prosecution dropped the case is just one unusual aspect of the story. Another is the fact that information on the case was immediately leaked to the media. Mr Bursik said Monday that this required an explanation.

“I will ask the police for an explanation of those information leaks at a time when no charges were raised yet. I will also publish the prosecution’s decision as soon as I get it. I will address the media outlets which published those suspicions and ask them to publish the prosecution statement in a similar extent.“

Ondrej Liska, photo: CTK
The identity of the anonymous caller in Martin Bursik’s case has not been established. However, his Green Party colleague Ondrej Liska, who is education minister, suggests that the motivation behind the case was easy to read.

“I was convinced from the very beginning that this was a hype, that is was some kind of gossip with which somebody was trying to throw dirt on Martin Busik and the whole Green Party. I am very happy that the case is over, and I am looking forward to focusing on more political issues that this.”

For seven days, Mr Bursik found himself in a situation similar to that of former deputy prime minister and regional development minister Jiri Cunek. Mr Cunek stepped down in November due an investigation into allegations he had accepted bribes; although the charges were never substantiated by the police, his coalition partners strongly objected to his return to the government. These objections were most strongly voiced by the Greens. In Mr Cunek’s case, confidential information was also leaked to the media.