US criticizes Jiří Čunek for Roma evictions, corruption

Roman Gazdík and Naďa Straková
12. 3. 2008 17:30
Annual human rights report notes corruption problem
Head of Christian Democrats Jiří Čunek
Head of Christian Democrats Jiří Čunek | Foto: Tomáš Adamec, Aktuálně.cz

Washington/Prague - While the Czech coalition politicians are talking about possible re-admission of Jiří Čunek to the cabinet, the U.S. state administration has been criticizing head of Christian Democrats and former vice-premier Čunek for his infamous activities.

The US State Department has published annual country reports on the state of human rights across the world, in which among other things mentions Mr. Čunek´s eviction of 360 Romany families in Vsetín in central Moravia two years ago and his corruption scandal.

Corruption and impunity

Čunek´s case is included in a section titled Government Corruption and Transparency.

The report literally states that "Corruption remained a widespread problem in the country. Political pressure and ineffective police investigative tools contributed to the lack of prosecutions of high-level corruption cases. Since the end of Communist rule in 1989, there have been few prosecutions and rarely any convictions of high level figures for corruption."

Read more: Corruption in the Czech Republic down, but still rife

Čunek-gate and Gross-gate

The report includes Mr. Čunek´s alleged acceptance of  $25,000 (450,000 CZK) bribe from a real estate development company when he used to be mayor of the city of Vsetín in 2002. In December 2007 the supreme state prosecutor concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Jiří Čunek on bribery charges, which raises questions of impunity.

Evicted family in their new home
Evicted family in their new home | Foto: Ludvík Hradilek

Apart from Mr. Čunek´s case that was allegedly closed due to political pressures according to critics, the report also lists the case of Stanislav Gross. "Former prime minister Stanislav Gross allegedly netted several million dollars after he sold his shares of a Czech power company, Moravia Energo. In 2005 Gross was forced to resign his post after media reports uncovered his unexplained ownership of a Prague luxury apartment on a modest government salary. Police closed the case for lack of evidence."

The reports finds the law under which disclosure of the origin of financial assets is voluntary not satisfactory.

Read more about Gross-gate:
Former Czech PM no longer a suspect for the police

It is precisely cases like Čunek-gate, Mr. Gross´s multimillion purchase of shares from Moravia Energo, alleged corruption with state-issued licenses to sell biofuel and the Gripens case contributed to "public disenchantment and concerns over impunity." 

Čunek and his Romanies

Záchod nikdy odpad neměl, vana jako sklad topiva - plesnivých hadrů
Záchod nikdy odpad neměl, vana jako sklad topiva - plesnivých hadrů | Foto: Ludvík Hradilek

Discrimination of Roma people is next on the report's agenda. Apart from stating a general discrimination of Roma in housing and unequal access to education and employment, Jiří Čunek´s is then being criticized for his harsch approach to the Roma issue.

Jiří Čunek, as mayor of Vsetín in 2006, evicted 360 Romani from their homes in the city, having provided them with only substandard housing.

"Although his actions were criticized by the press, human rights activists, and even members of his own party, Čunek was later elected as chairman of the small but influential KDU-CSL and became the vice premier in the government," writes the report.

Read a feature story about the eviction:
Slum-like conditions for evicted Roma families

In September police closed the investigation after concluding that Čunek's actions did not violate the law.

The Czech Republic is said to have 330 ghettos that are predominantly inhabited by Roma families.

Bribery on the rise

The report concludes that according to the World Bank, "bribery is on the rise and more than a quarter of businesses bribe public officials to receive preferential treatment to secure public tenders."

According to the American diplomats, the Czech Republic is also lagging behind in issues of trafficking, child abuse and neo-Nazi movements.



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