Babiš: Health minister must 'take the bull by the horns' and explain his property in detail

Barely in office for a month, Arenberger is already facing a scandal that could see his tenure end quickly.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 12.05.2021 16:29 (updated on 12.05.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

Czech Health Minister Petr Arenberger must explain the information about his property statements in detail, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told reporters today during his visit to the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine (IKEM) in Prague.

Babiš said he had not discussed the matter with Arenberger yet. "He has made a mistake and corrected it now. This is naturally his fault, since he knew that this was required from the government member and that he was becoming a politician, so he should have fixed it," Babiš said.

Arenberger has already completed the necessary information, but despite that, he has committed an offense, Babiš added.

"He must take the bull by the horns and explain it," Babiš said.

The health minister should give interviews to the media that published the information on his property, and reveal all details, Babiš added.

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Arenberger has been health minister for a little over one month. He took over April 7, and is the fourth health minister since the Coronavirus pandemic began last year.

Several news outlets today wrote that Arenberger in 2020 reported much more property and significantly higher incomes than what he stated in previous years. Last week in repsonse to the initial story that he had underreported his finances, Arenberger denied having millions of crowns worth of incomes that had not appeared in his property statements.

His new property statement has 16 pages and refers to his financial situation at the end of 2020, while he was still head of the Prague-Vinohrady Teaching Hospital (FNKV).

This new statement includes a list of 65 pieces of real estate and additional incomes of about CZK 30 million, of which CZK 28 million were proceeds from his private business conducted under his trade license, CZK 1.5 million from renting real estate, and CZK 400,000 from his remuneration as a member of the Council of the Czech Radio.

Most of the listed property and incomes do not figure into Arenberger's previous property statement from the end of 2019. At the time, he only claimed to own five pieces of real estate and also listed no additional income, according to news server Seznam Zprávy.

Arenberger's private dermatological clinic, which focuses on clinical trials of new medicines, has been operating for more than 20 years. Last week, the server Seznam Zprávy wrote that Arenberger had failed to include millions of crowns for clinical studies of new medicines in the past few years in his property statements. Arenberger at the time said he did not mention his additional income due to the high costs of research, which considerably reduced his profit.

"In those years, I did not generate a profit from this activity. That is why it could not appear in my property declaration," Arenberger told Mladá fronta Dnes.

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The State Drug Control Institute (SÚKL) spokeswoman Klára Brunclíková last week said it was highly unusual for a doctor to do clinical research on the basis of a trade license, as medical services are not considered a trade. Arenberger claims that his practices were in harmony with law.

Commenting on his latest property statement, Arenberger said he had earned the additional sum for his management of commercial property, clinical research, lectures, and consultations in the Czech Republic and abroad. Costs are not deducted from it, he told daily Mlada frontá Dnes (MfD).

According to corruption watchdog Transparency International, Arenberger faces a fine of tens of thousands of crowns for having submitted an incomplete property statement from the previous year, Deník N. reported

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This is just the latst in a series of scandals to affect Czech health ministers. Arenberger on April 7 replaced Jan Blatný, who was dismissed in part for his negative stance on the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, though the exact reasons were never specified. He took office Oct. 29, 2020, following the resignation of Roman Prymula, who was seen leaving a restaurant without a face mask at a time when restaurants were supposed to be closed due to lockdown restrictions.

Prymula took over the Health Ministry on Sept. 21, 2020, and was in office just over one month before he was forced out. Before that, Adam Vojtěch had been health minister from Dec. 13, 2017. Vojtěch said he resigned to create space for a solution to the pandemic, which at the time of his resignation had started to spin out of control again after having receded during the summer.

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