Jiří Čunek returns to government

Jiří Čunek, photo: CTK
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Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek is back in the Czech Government after he was re-appointed deputy prime minister and regional development minister by President Václav Klaus on Thursday. More than a year after he was accused of corruption, Mr Čunek has withstood resistance to his comeback and reassumed his position.

Karel Schwarzenberg, photo: CTK
The Czech government has endured one of the most serious crises in its 15-month-long history. Jiří Čunek, the head of the Christian Democratic Party who stepped down as the regional development minister in November 2007 over a corruption scandal, has returned to the government following a Tuesday agreement of the three coalition parties’ leaders. The most prominent opponent of his return, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has not carried out an earlier threat to resign in response. Instead, Mr Schwarzenberg said it would be sufficient if the controversial politician’s private finances are subject to an independent audit.

“This is not a personal dispute between Mr Čunek and me, and I am not judging Mr Čunek, either. All this is very distant to me. I just believe that a member of the Czech government must make everything clear and I suppose that everything will be made public.”

The bribe taking-scandal was not the first smear on Jiří Čunek’s reputation. During his term as the mayor of a town in North Moravia, he had several dozen Roma families moved out of the town accommodating them in provisional facilities. He also made several disparaging comments about the Roma community for which he was heavily criticized by human rights watchers as well as some politicians.

Jiří Čunek, photo: CTK
But it was accusations that he had taken bribes which forced Mr Čunek to step down from the cabinet. By the end of 2007, however, all criminal charges against Mr Čunek were dropped and his party demanded his return to the government. Speaking after the Tuesday meeting, Jiří Čunek said he would accept the demand to have his personal finance history scrutinized once again.

“The procedure is absolutely unusual and I wouldn’t accept it under normal circumstances. But since it’s Karel Schwarzenberg, I will accept it. Also, there is no longer anything confidential about the Čunek family finances, they has been checked many times, so I have no reason to hide anything.”

The results of the audit are expected to be ready by the beginning of July; Mr Schwarzenberg said he would then decide again on whether he would remain in the government. But for the time being, the return of Mr Čunek is a victory for Prime Minister Topolánek who has managed to satisfy the Christian Democrats without losing one of the most popular ministers of his cabinet.