Welfare abuse claim proves one scandal too many for Jiri Cunek|
Jiri Cunek is stepping down. One of the most controversial figures in Czech
politics announced at a special news conference on Thursday morning that as
of next Wednesday he will no longer serve as either deputy prime minister
or regional development minister. Previously the Christian Democrats leader
had brazened out a number of affairs, though a scandal which broke this
week seems to have finally put paid to Mr Cunek.
One Czech News Agency headline on Thursday afternoon said it all: Cunek's
exit from government has long-term causes. That is indeed the case: Jiri
Cunek had managed to survive a number of scandals before finally quitting
as deputy prime minister and regional development minister.
Mr Cunek was unknown at the national level until he last year moved Romany
rent-defaulters out of the north Moravian town of Vsetin where he was
mayor. In a TV interview he compared the expulsions to lancing a boil, a
line which, on top of the evictions themselves, led to accusations of
But rather than spelling the end of his political career, that controversy
seemed to provide his ticket to the top, as the rubber-faced 48-year-old
won election to the Senate with a broad margin. His meteoric rise continued
when he was elected chairman of the Christian Democrats, the second biggest
party in the current coalition government.
It wasn't long, however, before Jiri Cunek found himself in hot water.
Allegations emerged that he had accepted bribes of around half a million
crowns from a real estate firm while he was still mayor of Vsetin. There
were calls for him to step down at least temporarily, but Mr Cunek kept
grinning to the cameras and proclaiming his innocence. Some cried foul when
a police investigation into the bribery allegations was dropped earlier
This week Mr Cunek has again been all over the front pages, after a Czech
Television investigative programme accused him of collecting social welfare
in the 1990s while at the same time having millions of crowns in different
The politician immediately reverted to type, maintaining his innocence and
refusing to step down. But the wheels were this time starting to come off
the Cunek Express, with senators from his own Christian Democrats calling
on him to go, and party deputies due to discuss the matter early next week.
Speaking at a special news conference on Thursday morning, Jiri Cunek said
he was stepping down because of the supreme state attorney's stated desire
to reopen the bribery allegation case. He told reporters he wished to
ensure that investigation was independent. Mr Cunek also said he intended
to keep his seat in the Senate and stay on as head of the Christian