Laurie Anderson had a wonderful line in ‘United States’:

“Well, he couldn’t decide what to do with his life, so he decided to watch the government and scale that down to size.”

I wonder what that would mean if we decided to watch the Czech government these days, especially the way the Stanislav Gross story is taking on magical-realist tones.

In case you haven’t been following the tale so far, it goes something like this. Mind you, I’m not making any of this up, merely summarizing from the Czech press. I couldn’t make up stuff this weird. My comments are in italics:

Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has a nice apartment in Barrandov. It cost CZK 4.3 million (USD $183,400 at today’s rates), which is still a lot of money for most Czechs. So reporters at MFDnes started to ask how a person could afford such a nice place on an MP’s salary. Gross bought the place when he was just a lowly backbencher MP, and not the PM, mind you.

Gross’ first answer was something like ‘it was from savings and a mortgage.” Then there were numerous explanations for where the money for the apartment came from.

Then the story changed again. Gross apparently got the money from his uncle. Yeah, his uncle. Uncle Franta. Out in Jihlava.

So the reporters, deciding to do the Woodward-and-Bernstein “follow the money” routine, go out to visit Uncle Franta, who says that yes, he loaned Gross the money. Then the reporters ask the next logical question: How does Gross’ Uncle Franta in Jihlava have that kind of cash?

“He’s had pretty high income all his life, and in the past he sold a building and an apartment,” Gross said of his uncle.

So the reporters dig a little deeper, and find out that Gross’ uncle has been on disability since 1974, and although he sold a building in 1989, it wasn’t enough to cover the Barrandov apartment. So Uncle Franta changes his story, and says the money was a loan from a relative living abroad. And that the relative came to him with the money in a plastic bag.

In the meantime, MFDnes hires an auditor who shows that Gross could never have paid for the apartment on his own; the indoor swimming pool alone cost between CZK 750 thousand and 1 million ($32,000-$42,000). According to MFDnes’ numbers, Gross made CZK 1.95 million ($83 thousand) in the years before 1999, while Gross says he made CZK 3.37 million ($144 thousand).

Gross starts to explain that the extra money came from reimbursements paid to him while on government business. But then he drops that line.

It also comes out that Gross hasn’t paid back the loan to Uncle Franta, and instead used the money for other investments and vacations.

Then a new twist emerges. A businessman by the name of Rostislav Rod comes out and says he loaned Uncle Franta the money. Rod is neither a relative nor is he living abroad. But as if to twist the knife a bit, Rod says he made the money on the somewhat-questionable privatization of MAFRA, the parent company MFDnes. Snap!

Rod says Uncle Franta’s wife taught him in elementary school, and that besides that, both Rod and Uncle Franta lived in Jihlava. Which was enough to convince Rod that loaning Uncle Franta 900 thousand crowns or so was a good business proposition. I guess that’s how they do it out in Jihlava.

Gross then says that to show he’s clean, he’s going to undergo a security clearance check, a process that conveniently could take up to a year to complete. Well, if he couldn’t pass a credit check, maybe a security check will do instead.

Which brings us to the latest news. Gross is threatening both MFDnes and Respekt with libel cases. And another curious transaction has floated to the surface: Gross’ wife’s company paid CZK 5.9 million cash for another real estate transaction in Prague’s Prosek district.

And Rostislav Rod? Lidové noviny today writes that he’s had a history of mental illness, and that he himself has taken out a mortgage on his house. One source told LN Rod used to walk around acting like he was calling someone, but didn’t have a phone and didn’t have a handsfree unit.

Which goes to show what Jack Handey once said: If you have trouble distinguishing what is real from what is unreal, that’s a good time to lend me a million crowns.

Opposition MPs started to get worked up about the whole affair, threatening hearings on the matter, but then it backed down (pot, meet kettle, kettle, meet pot), so there’s a real good chance Gross, Uncle Franta, and Rostislav Rod will be able to walk away from the whole affair.

UPDATE 17:58 090205: Now it turns out the leader of a small party, the Czech Right, has bought the loan from Rostislav Rod for CZK 900 thousand. Party leader Michal Simkanič then tore up the loan contract to protest what he sees as Gross’ persecution. Of course, Rod hasn’t gotten any money yet – he’ll have to wait for the Czech Right to have enough money to do that – which yet again confirms Rod’s incredible business prowess. I guess that’s really how they do it in Jihlava.

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