Financing of Prime Minister's luxury flat - and now his wife's house - under media scrutiny

07-02-2005

Opposition leaders are demanding that Prime Minister Stanislav Gross explain before Parliament on Tuesday how he paid for his luxury Prague apartment five years ago, as his official government salary would not have been efficient to finance it. Mr Gross has already given three (conflicting) explanations and is unlikely to hazard a fourth, but speculation over the money's origin has also renewed debate over to what degree politicians should make public their finances.

The leading Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes broke the story, which was to come full circle: five years ago, Stanislav Gross made a 1.2 million crown ($50,000) down payment on his apartment in the Barrandov hills overlooking Prague, to which he later added an indoor pool. Where did the money come from, the newspaper asked?

"I am strongly in favour of controls relating to politicians and possible corruption. I think that it's fine that the [apartment] question was opened; on the other hand, I don't think that those who opened the question were motivated to form here a better situation, or to fight against corruption. It's a political attack on the prime minister."

Professor of political science Vladimira Dvorakova is among those who argue that whatever the origin of the money used to buy Mr Gross' apartment, the media have the right to ask such questions of politicians. But she notes that the opposition Civic Democrats, who are loudly calling for Mr Gross to give a full accounting, have in the past come out strongly against legislation that would require politicians - and their immediate family members - to make public their assets and outside sources of income.

Prof. Dvorakova again:

"What was refused, again by ODS [the Civic Democrats], which is very active in the fight against the prime minister, was to form, for instance, ethics commissions — such as exist in almost all parliaments or in the U.S. Congress — that are not thinking only about legality or illegally, but also thinking about such problems from the point of view of the ethics involved."

Over the past two weeks, Mr Gross and his spokesperson have offered several apparently conflicting explanations of how the prime minister got the $50,000 deposit: his uncle lent him the money; his uncle borrowed the money from relatives abroad and then in turn lent it to his nephew. When neither explanation stopped Mlada fronta Dnes from pursuing the story, the prime minister threatened to sue — a tactic that embattled politicians here often resort to in hopes of squashing a story.

Rostilav Rod, photo: CTKRostilav Rod, photo: CTK But it is not just the media and opposition politicians calling for Mr Gross to explain himself. The Czech branch of corruption watchdog Transparency International says the prime minister's failure to do so is bringing the Czech government into "disrepute".

A former journalist and shareholder in the Mlada fronta Dnes newspaper, Rostilav Rod — who is not related to the prime minister — has come forward claiming that it was he who lent Mr Gross's uncle the money - and at usury rates. But in the meantime, another housing deal has been brought into question: the investigative weekly Respekt reported on Monday that in 2002 Mr Gross's wife Sarka — the source of whose income Transparency International has questioned in the past over other deals — bought a house for 6 million crowns: watch this space.

07-02-2005