The upcoming vote on whether to hand VV founder and paymaster Bárta (right) over to the police represents another challenge for Czech PM Petr Nečas
Public Affairs (VV) parliamentary group leader and de facto party boss Vít Bárta looks likely to be turned over to the police in August for questioning over illegal “cash for loyalty” payments to fellow parliamentary lawmakers, which the authorities believe were bribes and Bárta insists were loans.
The head of the lower house of parliament’s immunity committee, MP Jeroným Tejc of the main opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD), told Czech Position that his call for a special sitting of the house in August to discuss lifting Bárta’s parliamentary immunity had been accepted. That would mean the debate would probably take place after the scheduled start of the session on August 30.
As well as Bárta, who was pushed to resign as transport minister over the affair, police also want to question expelled VV lower house member Jaroslav Škárka. He sparked the “cash for loyalty” scandal in April when he revealed he received payments from Bárta. Police say that he did not report the alleged corruption fast enough.
The corruption scandal soured relations between VV and its two partners in the center-right coalition — the Civic Democrats (ODS) of Prime Minister Petr Nečas, and TOP 09 party headed by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg — with VV threatening to walk out of the government as it deepened.
Bárta has protested his innocence and pledged to clear his name. His election earlier this week as the leader of VV’s lower house contingent of lawmakers showed he is still a potent force in the publicly tarnished party. A strong vote in favor of lifting immunity from MPS from partner coalition parties is likely to further fray barely patched up relations within the government.
A survey published Thursday suggests fellow lawmakers will almost certainly hand Bárta over to the police.
A survey published Thursday by the daily Mladá Fronta Dnessuggests fellow lawmakers will almost certainly hand Bárta over to the police. The paper said 81 lower house members declared themselves absolutely certain to vote for the lifting of his immunity with only five against and 36 saying they were still not sure which way they will vote.
An absolute majority of lawmakers present when the vote is taken must back the proposal for it to pass. This means that abstentions or absences from the vote will help increase the likelihood of the seeming solid bloc in favor of lifting Bárta’s immunity triumphing. There are 200 lawmakers in the lower house.
Coalition party Top 09 says that it will instruct its 41 members to vote for Bárta’s delivery to the police. “The decision of the group is binding on every member,” leader Schwarzenberg told the paper.
The Dnes survey suggests most member of the left-wing opposition, the ČSSD, and Communists (KSČM) will do likewise but that ODS lawmakers are divided over their stance.
Bárta himself has kept silent about the pending vote, including whether he will vote for or against the lifting of his immunity. He says he will not comment publicly until he is heard by the lower house’s committee on immunity. That is due to sit during the last week of August.
Bribes or loans?
Bárta resigned as transport minister in the wake of allegations of bribery filed by two now ex-party members, MPs Jaroslav Škárka a Kristýna Kočí, and revelations that he had enterted politics to drum up business for the detective and security agency ABL, which he founded and is now run by his brother. He insists the cash payments he made to Škárka and Kočí, who have both since left the VV, were loans.
Škárka claimed he received regular “cash for loyalty” payments from Bárta over a six-month period, while Kočí said she received a one-off payment of Kč 500,000 — which she promptly handed to police. The two left Public Affairs after making the allegations and reporting the case to the police.
The “cash for loyalty” scandal and the subsequent reports about Bárta’s designs for ABL also led to the resignation of VV chairman Radek John as interior minister. Following the resignations in April of Kočí, Škárka and a third MP, Stanislav Huml, Public Affairs now has 21 MPs in the 200-seat Chamber of Deputies.