Czech Republic's newest health minister accused of concealing income

Petr Arenberger, in office for only a month, is the fourth health minister to hold the position since September 2020.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 06.05.2021 15:06 (updated on 06.05.2021)

Current Czech Health Minister Petr Arenberger received millions of crowns for clinical studies of new medicines over the past few years, but he did not include this income in his property statements, internet broadcaster Televize Seznam reported. He has denied the allegations, and claims his income was properly reported.

Arenberger, who became health minister April 7, carried out the studies as cosmetic services on the basis of his trade license and says his research work is in harmony with the rules of his trade license.

If Arenberger is forced to resign over the scandal, he would be the fourth health minister to resign since the end of September 2020.

Lobbyist and former politician Pavel Telička tweeted that a list of possible replacements for Arenberger has already been compiled by the ruling ANO party. It is not clear if his tweet is a joke referring to the high turnover for the job, or if it refers to a real meeting. The elections he refers to are scheduled for Oct. 8–9.

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“It came to me from confidential sources that the ANO leadership met in the morning and compiled a list of candidates for health minister, so that there would be enough of them and they would be sufficient until the election. It is said that there will be no more than three or four exchanges,” he tweeted.

Arenberger told the Czech News Agency (ČTK) that he had stated all his income in his tax returns, and added that clinical research is very costly. Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has asked Arenberger to explain his incomes, news server iDnes reported.

“My tax return is in order. … When it comes to clinical research, it is the collection and subsequent evaluation of large amounts of data and consulting activities. This activity has not only revenues, but also quite large costs. These projects pay for co-workers, study coordinators, and many other things. In those years, I did not generate a profit from this activity. Therefore, it also could not appear in my property declaration, "Arenberger told iDnes.

Arenberger has been running his dermatological clinic in Prague for 20 years, focusing on clinical tests of new drugs that pharmaceutical firms order from hospitals and specialists.

Televise Seznam’s source says between CZK 150,000 and CZK 200,000 are paid per patient in a clinical study.

The State Drug Control Institute (SÚKL) database shows that Arenberger's clinic assisted in 38 studies in the past three years, thoughthe number of patients is not publicly available. Arenberger has been preoccupied with clinical studies since 2004, and their number has increased in the past three years.

Arenberger had to state his incomes in property statements that he was required to submit as a member of the management of the Prague Vinohrady Teaching Hospital. He led the hospital's dermatological clinic starting in 2001, and became the deputy director for science and research in 2002. He was named the hospital director on Oct. 1, 2019.

In the six property statement he filed since 2017, he listed only his teaching at the Faculty of Medicine and trade in cosmetic services as additional work activities, but not his income for clinical studies.

“A public official is obliged to report his financial incomes or other property advantages he gained during the execution of the post in the given period. This also applies to incomes from business activities, from participation in a legal entity running business and from trade,” Justice Ministry conflict of interest and anti-corruption section head Jiri Kapras said, according to Televise Seznam.

Arenberger claims that his practices were in harmony with law.

SÚKL spokeswoman Klára Brunclíková said a doctor cannot provide clinical assessments of medical products and list the activity as cosmetic services. “This concerns treatment, prevention or diagnostics, and consequently these are medical services. At the same time, the trade law directly stipulates that the doctor's work providing medical services is not a trade,” Brunclikova told Seznam.

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Arenberger said that in his private practice he carried out clinical studies that would not be profitable for the Vinohrady hospital. Member of Parliament Vlastimil Válek (TOP 09), a physician by profession, says such steps are highly unusual.

Arenberger, in office now for just short of a month, replaced Jan Blatný, who was dismissed in part for his negative stance on the Sputnik V vaccine, though the exact reasons were never specified. He took office Oct. 29, 2020, following the resignation of Roman Prymula. That minister was seen leaving a restaurant without a face mask at a time when restaurants were supposed to be closed due to lockdown restrictions.

Prymula was in office just over one month. He took over the Health Ministry on Sept. 21, 2020. 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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