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Fourth Czech health minister since pandemic began sparks controversy

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Petr Arenberger was director of the Prague-Vinohrady Teaching Hospital when he was appointed as health minister.
Petr Arenberger was director of the Prague-Vinohrady Teaching Hospital when he was appointed as health minister.   -   Copyright  MICHAL CIZEK / AFP
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The Czech health minister has come under fire after allegations that he had withheld information about supplementary income.

Petr Arenberger - who only took office on 7 April - has been asked to explain alleged substantial irregularities in his tax returns, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said.

National media have reported that Arenberger had declared significantly more assets and a higher income after joining the government than in previous years.

Before becoming a member of the Czech Cabinet, he was the director of the Vinohrady University Hospital in Prague.

Opposition politicians have now accused the health minister of renting an undeclared property to the university hospital before he was appointed.

In a statement to Euronews, the university hospital confirmed that they have been renting the storage space "since 2013".

"Following a proper tender procedure, this offer was evaluated as the most advantageous and therefore accepted by the then management [of the hospital]."

"It is not for us to comment on the statements of the MPs as they are not our employees."

Euronews has also contacted the Czech health ministry for a response to the allegations.

Arenberger is the fourth health minister in the Czech Republic since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. And all of them have courted controversy.

What happened to the three previous Czech health ministers?

The first to hold the position, Adam Vojtěch, resigned in September after several years as minister over his handling of the health crisis.

Vojtěch had advocated for a "smart quarantine" plan to keep only those infected on lockdown, but as infection rates rose to the highest in Europe, pressure grew on the government for stricter restrictions.

His successor, epidemiologist Roman Prymula, quit the role after less than one month after he was found to have violated COVID-19 measures.

Prymula was photographed leaving a restaurant in Prague, which should have been closed under the country's strict restrictions.

Prime Minister Babiš had stated that his minister's mistake was "inexcusable".

Prymula was replaced by Jan Blatný, who held the office was nearly six months until he was also dismissed.

Blatný had faced opposition over his handling of the pandemic, and the refusal to allow the use of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine in the Czech Republic.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is still reviewing the jab and has not yet approved it for use in the EU.

This article has been updated with the statement from the Vinohrady University Hospital in Prague.

Additional sources • DPA