Senator stripped of immunity to face charges of corruption

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

Christian Democrat Senator Jiri Cunek has been stripped of his parliamentary immunity. The Senate, on Wednesday, made the decision following a request by the Czech Police, who are investigating charges of corruption. This makes Mr Cunek, who is also Regional Development Minister, the first member of government in the country's history to face a criminal investigation.

Jiri Cunek,  photo: CTK
In 2002, when Jiri Cunek was mayor of the eastern Moravian town of Vsetin, he placed just under half a million crowns into his bank account. Just before that, the real estate agency H&B Real withdrew almost the same amount. Since Mr Cunek was dealing with the company at the time, the police suspect the money that Mr Cunek put into his account was a bribe given to him by H&B Real in return for favourable deals involving town property.

Mr Cunek himself rejects the allegations and says his former secretary bears a personal grudge against him and is behind it all. As Vsetin mayor, he was accused of sexual harassment but his secretary failed to make her case. Now, she is one of the police's key witnesses and says Mr Cunek had boasted about accepting bribes.

But it was not until last year - when Mr Cunek entered national politics - that the allegations of corruption surfaced. A reason why Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek says Mr Cunek has his full backing:

"This pertains to a time before my government and I think Mr Cunek's personal problem has been politicised. I'll be very happy to see it all sorted out soon and leave it up to Mr Cunek to deal with it. There is no reason for him to resign. The discussion in the Senate that preceded the vote on his immunity clearly proved that many suspect the case has been politicised."

It took several months for Mr Cunek to give a clear explanation as to the origin of the half a million crowns. He first said he could not remember, then said they were family savings, and recently explained it was part of a larger sum that was returned to him by a bank at where he had held an account before it went bankrupt.

Jiri Cunek,  Mirek Topolanek,  Martin Bursik,  photo: CTK
On Wednesday, senators received a letter from Mr Cunek's lawyer requesting they uphold his immunity. While Mr Cunek says he knows nothing about this, his lawyer claims it was a joint decision.

These slightly conflicting explanations are naturally raising suspicion. But according to commentator Jan Urban this does not spell the end of Mr Cunek's political career:

"There are a few serious doubts about the whole case against him. Be it the timing, be it the fact that the police up to now in violation of the law have not allowed Mr Cunek's lawyer to view the file and the evidence against Mr Cunek. I don't think that his party at this time would like to change the leadership unless he is definitely proven guilty beyond any doubt and I don't think we will see that. The Czech public is like any other public. If we get another scandal next week a few days later nobody will remember even Mr Cunek's name."