Key Points:

In a sensational plot line that could have come straight from the pages of one of his own novels, the acclaimed Czech-born writer Milan Kundera has been accused of denouncing a Western spy to the Communist secret police when he was a student.

The author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being was identified by a Czech state institute yesterday as having betrayed the young man in 1950 at the height of the Communist show trials.

Kundera, one of Czechoslovakia's best-known writers, who moved to France in 1975 as a dissident, bitterly satirised the Communist system in novels such as The Joke and Life is Elsewhere.

The reclusive Kundera, now 79, categorically denied the accusation yesterday, accusing the institute and media of "the assassination of an author".

He said: "I am totally astonished by something that I did not expect, about which I knew nothing only yesterday, and that did not happen. I did not know the man at all."

The spy at the centre of the allegation was Miroslav Dvoracek, a young pilot who fled Czechoslovakia after the 1948 Communist takeover, was recruited in Germany by United States counter-espionage agents and sent back to his homeland.

According to the government-sponsored Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Dvoracek visited a woman in Prague and left a suitcase in her student dormitory. She told her boyfriend, who later told Kundera, and Kundera, it is claimed, went to the police.

Dvoracek was arrested when he went to collect the suitcase. He was later sentenced to 22 years in prison for desertion, espionage and treason, although he served a total 14 years, mainly spent working in uranium mines as a political prisoner.

The institute said a document written by the Czech secret police, and unearthed by a team of historians, identified Kundera as the person who informed on Dvoracek.

Although informers were a tool of the totalitarian system which blackmailed its citizens to ensure loyalty, the charges against Kundera could seriously undermine his reputation in his native country as the scourge of Communism.

Dvoracek is now aged 80 and living in Sweden in poor health after suffering a stroke.

His wife Marketa said yesterday the couple was "not surprised" that Kundera's name had surfaced in the Czech media reports.

GILDED PEN WITHIN A RUSTY REGIME

During the 1980s, Milan Kundera became, without much doubt, the most fashionable and widely praised writer on the planet.

He wrote rueful, sensual, ironic novels of Czech life in the dog days of a bankrupt communism.

They established a benchmark for the sophisticated fusion of private and public life in fiction, with a blend of essayistic wit, "postmodern" ingenuity and erotic edginess that spawned a host of imitations.

- INDEPENDENT