State attorneys at war over outcome of Cunek case

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK

The decision of a Jihlava state attorney to halt a criminal investigation involving the Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek earlier this week has not lifted the fog of suspicion hanging over one of the country's leading politicians. On the contrary, it seems to have made matters worse. The opposition is crying foul and state attorneys are engaged in a public war of words over the case.

Jiri Cunek, photo: CTK
When Jiri Cunek entered high politics some commentators labeled him the enfant terrible of the Czech government, but the waves he has made in cabinet have surpassed all expectations. Since taking office he has been accused of making racist remarks against the Roma minority, of having sexually harassed his former secretary when he was mayor of Vsetin and of having taken a half a million crown bribe from a private building company while he served as mayor. The investigation into possible corruption dragged on for six months. In June the Supreme State Attorney's Office unexpectedly replaced the Prerov state attorney on the case - citing procedural mistakes. The case went to Arif Salichov from Jihlava - who this week halted the investigation citing lack of evidence against Mr. Cunek. He moreover suggested that the Prerov state attorney's office had not given Jiri Cunek fair treatment :

"I have never seen such a biased and one-sided investigation. The attorneys on the case worked with one goal in mind - to prove Jiri Cunek's guilt at any cost."

The accusations of bias have outraged the Prerov office. Jana Stankova, one of the attorneys who worked on the case said Salichov's statement was a blatant lie.

Arif Salichov, photo: CTK
"What doctor Salichov said at Monday's press conference was both untrue and unethical. It undermines public trust in our office and state attorneys in general and we are filing a complaint about it to his superior."

The justice ministry is watching developments with unease but has so far not stepped into the fray. Meanwhile the internet news server aktualne.cz says that the police are once again looking into Jiri Cunek's finances since he had been unable to explain the source of two million crowns acquired in earlier years. Many questions remain open and public trust in the country's leading institutions has once again taken a beating. Political commentator Vladimira Dvorakova says all this could have been avoided had Jiri Cunek resigned in time.

"I think that for an independent investigation it would have been necessary for him to resign. If he had resigned and now the investigation had been halted I think the public would have accepted that readily. They would say: OK, this happened, he is clean so he can return to politics. But he did not resign and moreover the future of the government depended on his presence in cabinet - because it was clear that if the prime minister sacked him then the Christian Democrats would have walked out bringing on a government crisis. So of course it was clear to everyone that there would be strong political pressure for the investigation to be closed and for Mr. Cunek to be pronounced clean. And to tell you the truth I am rather afraid of such things. You know it is almost twenty years now since the fall of communism. That may seem like a long time but twenty years is really not enough to develop a strong political culture. For a stable democracy you need people to accept democratic values. And here people are saying "so this is democracy?"