- A Prague district court has found the de facto head of the Public Affairs party Vít Bárta guilty of bribery.
- In related news, the politician confirmed he will give up his post as head of the party’s deputies’ club and leave Public Affairs.
- Judge Jan Šott, who handed-down the guilty verdicts, called on the police in his ruling to further investigate former top Public Affairs member Kristýna Kočí’s role.
- The top leadership of the party has been meeting to assess the situation in the wake of the rulings.
- The Prague Writers’ Festival 2012 kicks off in the Czech capital on Saturday.
Court finds Vít Bárta and fellow MP guilty
A Prague district court found de facto head of the Public Affairs party Vít Bárta guilty of bribery, handing him an 18-month suspended sentence on Friday. Fellow MP and former Public Affairs member Jaroslav Škárka was found guilty of fraud and received a sentence of three years in prison as well as a 10-year ban as an MP. The court ruled Jaroslav Škárka had intentionally accepted a loan of 170,000 crowns from Mr Bárta in order to try and discredit him. On Thursday, Vít Bárta – who was accused of giving fellow party members hefty bribes in the form of interest-free loans in order to increase his influence – said he would leave high politics if convicted. Friday’s court ruling can still be appealed.
Bárta to leave Public Affairs
In related news, fellow politicians – including the prime minister – made clear that both Mr Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka should give up their mandates in the Chamber of Deputies. Following Friday’s ruling, the de facto head of Public Affairs confirmed that he would resign as head of Public Affairs’ deputies’ club and would give up his party membership. He remained silent, however, on giving up his post as an MP. Whether Mr Škárka will give up his post in the Chamber of Deputies also remains unclear: the defendant told reporters after the ruling that he would appeal, so decision no is expected yet. The head of the lower house, Miroslava Němcová, meanwhile, confirmed on Friday she was planning to put forward proposed changes which would broaden the criteria for the dissolution of parliamentary mandates.
Judge calls on police to look further into Kočí’s role in Bárta case
Judge Jan Šott, who handed-down the guilty verdicts, called on the police in his ruling to look further into former top Public Affairs member Kristýna Kočí’s role in the affair – on the grounds she may have committed fraud as well as provided false testimony. In the judge’s view, idnes reported on Friday, some steps taken by Jaroslav Škárka and Kristýna Kočí could be tantamount to intentional false accusation, a felony that carries a sentence between two and eight years in prison; Kočí could also face charges for fraud. The anti-corruption unit police spokesman, Jaroslav Ibehej, has confirmed that the police will look into the matter.
Public Affairs leadership assesses developments
The top leadership of the Public Affairs party has been meeting in the wake of Friday’s court ruling, with some in the party acknowledging Mr Bárta’s decision to leave the party as correct but others saying he should also give up his mandate in the lower house, news website idnes said. Others, such as past deputy chairman Tomáš Jarolím, expressed the hope he would stay on as an MP. Mr Jarolím criticised the court decision, saying in his view, that Mr Bárta was being punished simply for trying to help fellow politicians. Until now, Barta was considered the de facto head of the Public Affairs party: questions remain about its direction not least after Prague branch leaders last week called on chairman Radek John to resign.
Opposition party slams continuation of government
In connection with Friday’s ruling, the opposition Social Democrats called on Prime Minister Petr Nečas to end the centre-right coalition with Public Affairs. Speaking from the party’s Prague headquarters, Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka reiterated longstanding criticism of the current government while fellow party member Jiří Dienstbier slammed Public Affairs as being “undemocratic”. Deputy of the lower house, and prominent party figure Lubomír Zaorálek suggested Public Affairs had no place either in government or in the lower house. Criticism by the Leftist party is not likely to get much traction within the coalition, though, which recently renewed its pledge to press ahead with key reforms, following an unsuccessful attempt by Public Affairs to set a greater agenda within the government.
Police: 10 people charged over ProMoPro
Police have revealed that not five but a total of ten people have been charged in the ProMoPro affair, referring to a case of suspected embezzlement which took place during the Czech EU presidency in 2009. According to police, the suspect deal was overpriced by at least 388 million crowns. Three of the 10 suspects charged were civil servants, police anti-corruption unit spokesman Jaroslav Ibehej said. The case could have political implications as the ProMoPro deal was overseen by then-EU affairs minister, and current Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra, of the Civic Democrats, who in the past faced pressure to resign over the scandal.
Court rules display of banned party flag not a crime
A regional court ruled on Friday that three people who displayed a flag of the banned far-right Workers’ Party at a public demonstration in October 2010 committed no crime in light of the fact they may not have known the extremist party was dissolved earlier in the year, ČTK reports. The Supreme Administrative Court banned the party after concluding that its programme, ideas and symbols contained elements of xenophobia, homophobia and a racist subtext. The three far-right supporters, Lucie Šlegrová, David Kundla and Petr Soblahovský, carried the party´s flag at demonstrations in Most and Litvínov, in northern Bohemia. Judge Pavel Plch said the three suspects commonly used the symbols of the Workers´ Party as they were its members. An expert on extremism said the party´s symbol, a red cogwheel and black letters, made clear references to Nazi symbols.
Prague Writers’ Festival 2012 kicks off Saturday
The Prague Writers’ Festival 2012 kicks off in the Czech capital on Saturday. Among the guests of the 22nd edition of the international literature festival are the British screenwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi, American poet Jerome Rothenberg and Turkish writer and psychologist Gündüz Vassaf. The festival’s opening gala, where the Spiros Vergos Prize for Freedom of Expression will be awarded takes place on Sunday. On the program are film screenings, discussion panels, literary readings as well as jazz and poetry performances. The festival runs for five days, through April 18.
Hanzal, Havlát, Voráček heroic in overtime in NHL playoffs
Several Czech hockey players have gotten off to an excellent start in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which began in the NHL. Martin Hanzal, who plays for the Phoenix Coyotes, redirected a shot to earn the overtime winner in Game 1 against Chicago; 3:2 was the final score. Jakub Voráček also got an overtime winner for Philadelphia, who came back from 3:0 against Pittsburgh; 4:3 was the score. And, Martin Havlát got the winner in double-overtime for the San Jose Sharks against St. Louis; 3:2 was the final score.
Football: defending champions face last place Žižkov
Czech football league champions Viktoria Plzeň will have an opportunity on Sunday to get within striking distance of retaining their title, if they can defeat last/place Žižkov and other results go their way. The third-place team currently is four points behind leaders Sparta, and three behind Liberec. At the weekend, Sparta will face Teplice, in 7th spot, while Liberec will take on Ostrava, who are second-to-last. Viktoria Plzeň had a highly respected run after winning the Czech league – qualifying for the first time for the Champions League and the Europa League after failing to advance from the group.
The coming days bring overcast and rainy weather. Daytime highs should range between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius.