Vojtěch returning as health chief as Arenberger quits

Petr Arenberger

The Czech Republic’s fourth minister of health since the Covid pandemic hit the country, Petr Arenberger, has announced his resignation, after his financial affairs came under scrutiny. His replacement is a familiar name: former health minister Adam Vojtěch.

Petr Arenberger was not a household name in the Czech Republic a few months ago, but he did enjoy respect in the medical field as director of Prague’s Vinohrady University Hospital.

However, when the leading dermatologist took the ministerial oath his personal finances soon came under the scrutiny of journalists.

The news site Seznam Zprávy reported that Mr. Arenberger had declared infinitely more assets for the year 2020 than he ever had in previous years.

In addition questions were raised about his involvement with extensive clinical trials, which he insisted had brought him no material gain.

It later transpired he was loaning one of his 160-plus properties to the very hospital he headed, while his purchase of a large Prague apartment also came under the spotlight.

If Mr. Arenberger was ruing the day he entered the revolving doors at the Ministry of Health, thus drawing attention to his financial affairs, he was not letting on at a hastily organised news conference on Tuesday morning.

Adam Vojtěch | Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

Instead he conceded an oversight in his declaration of assets as his sole error – and laid into journalists.

“What I experienced in the last week put me in mind of a media lynching. The media dragged up various scandals, for which, even they were demonstrably proven to be untrue, no journalists apologised. It was an interesting experience with some from the spectrum of journalists. I can’t say they are all the same. On the contrary, I met several decent ones, whom I thank.”

Mr. Arenberger’s resignation had been flagged a few hours earlier by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who said the outgoing health chief had cited the strain of recent weeks when informing him of his decision.

“I guess somebody gave him bad advice and he underestimated the fact that assets declarations and other things are stricter at the level of minister. He gave as his reason the pressure, mainly on his family. Naturally I’ve accepted this.”

The prime minister also told reporters that the fifth Czech minister of health since the Covid crisis began would in fact be the fourth: Adam Vojtěch, who had been in the post for two and a half years last March, is set to return.

Mr. Vojtěch will be in office until the end of the current government’s term, following elections later this year, Mr. Babiš said.

While he is seen by some as having relevant experience, the opposition have accused the prime minister of simply running out of potential candidates.