MP Bárta trial - day 3: videotape, tears and ‘absurd reality show’

Former Public Affairs (VV) deputy charged with taking a bribe from party paymaster Vít Bárta reveals video of alleged exchange

Politics & Policy|Society
Tom Jones | 07.03.2012
Vít Bárta in the Prague 5 district court

The key development on the third day of the trial of de facto leader of Public Affairs party (VV) Vít Bárta, who stands accused of offering bribes, was the revelation of a recording by an alleged bribe recipient, MP Jaroslav Škárka, a former VV member. Škárka says the recording include his conversation with Bárta when the latter handed him a bribe. Also on Wednesday, Czech President Václav Klaus described the trial as “extremely risky” and “damaging for everyone.”

Presenting the recorded evidence to the court, Škárka explained why he had not revealed its existence earlier: “I didn’t publish it, but gave it to people who could technically clean the recording. The recording is devaluated [as evidence] because the actual handing over of the bribe took place in Mr. Bárta’s study, where there were noise generators [to render recorded conversation intelligible], Škárka said.

He added that it was the first and only time he had made a surreptitious recording. “I made the recoding because I wanted a guarantee against any eventual attempt at blackmail,” Škárka said. ‘I consider it incomprehensible that he recorded me. It’s terrible to have to react spontaneously to such a level of calculation and treacherousness by people I’ve known for years.’

Bárta was visibly shaken by the revelation. “I consider it incomprehensible that he recorded me. It’s terrible to have to react spontaneously to such a level of calculation and treacherousness by people I’ve known for years,” the VV founder and paymaster said — his voice breaking at the end of the sentence — before sitting down and hanging his head.

Some media reported that Bárta had broken down in tears, but this was not evident from the video recordings from the courtroom. Nevertheless, he apparently felt obliged to apologize to the judge for his “emotional state” while giving his reaction. The judge called a break in proceedings after Bárta gave his response.

According to Škárka, the recording is about an hour long. Judge Jan Šott requested Škárka to submit the recording in its original state to the court, along with the recording device, for expert analysis on Thursday.

Too generous    

VV leader Radek John said Bárta’s problem was that he is ‘too generous,’ and claimed that on a number of occasions he offered to extend loans to colleagues in financial difficulties.Bárta was provided with relief of some sorts later in the proceedings when a number of Public Affairs MPs gave testimony in his support. The party’s official leader, Radek John, said Bárta’s problem was that he is “too generous,” and claimed that on a number of occasions he offered to extend loans to colleagues in financial difficulties.

“Kč 500,000 is to Vit Bárta what Kč 500 is to me,” John told the court in reference to the VV founder’s personal wealth, presumably generated from the ABL detective and security agency that Bárta founded.

John’s comment elicited laugher from those observing the trial.

Bárta stands accused of attempting to pay former party colleague Kristýna Kočí a bribe of Kč 500,000, and Škárka one of Kč 170,000. Bárta claims that in both cases the cash he handed them was a personal loan.

He also alleges Kočí and Škárka were planning a putsch within the party, orchestrated in part by former leader of the club of MPs of the center-right Civic Democrats (ODS) Petr Tluchoř.            

Minister of Regional Development Kamil Jankovský (VV) backed Bárta’s claim that Kočí had demanded Kč 6 million from Bárta, though his recollection was vague: “I don’t remember who said it. It was someone from the party leadership. Maybe Vít Bárta, Kateřina Klasnová [his wife] or Karolína Peake,” Jankovský told the court.

Public Affairs deputy chairwoman Dagmar Navrátilová gave a similar account. “I heard that Kristýna Kočí had asked for such an amount of money,” adding that it was said at one of the meetings of Public Affairs MPs, though she said she didn’t remember who spoke about it.

Incredibly risky

‘It is a destructive element against the political system in the Czech Republic, it’s an incredibly risky case and is fundamentally damaging for us all—Away from the courtroom, Czech President Václav Klaus on Wednesday commented on the trial for the first time: he said he had only read the headlines and was not interested in reading more.

“It’s an unfortunate case; it’s an absurd reality show broadcast live,” Klaus said when asked about the trial at a press conference at Prague Castle to present his latest book about his recollections on his ninth year as Czech president.

“In any case, it is a destructive element against the political system in the Czech Republic; it’s an incredibly risky case and is fundamentally damaging for us all,” Klaus said.

In the past Klaus has spoken glowingly about Bárta as a bright newcomer to Czech parliamentary politics. When Bárta was forced to resign as transport minister in the wake of the bribe allegations, Klaus prolonged accepting his resignation until the government presented a nominee to replace him. This was interpreted by some commentators as a gesture of support for Bárta.

Initial hearings in the trial are to continue on Thursday and Friday. 

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