Bárta trial adjourns after an ugly week
The first round of the trial of leading Public Affairs member and former transport minister Vít Bárta comes to a close on Friday. Over the course of the week no less than six past and present government ministers have taken the stand to give testimony in the biggest corruption case in recent memory, which will be adjourned on Friday while the court goes over the evidence.
Jaroslav Škárka, who is also being tried for taking a bribe from Mr Bárta, repeated that he had long received extra money from Mr Bárta for “loyalty” and later received a sum of 170,000 in an envelope, which the prosecutor accuses him of having partially spent, and reporting only out of fear of the media. Mr Škárka claimed in court to have a recording of the visit with Mr Bárta during which he was given the money, but said the part containing the actual handover was incomprehensible due to anti-recording jammers in Mr Bárta’s office. This revelation brought out a surge of emotion from Mr Bárta, who said he felt betrayed.
President Klaus poured scorn on the situation this week, calling it an absurd reality show that was destructive of the political system in the Czech Republic. His take was echoed by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, who said that looking into the bowels of a political party is never a pretty sight. Political leaders are anxious to stress that it is people, rather than parties, that are on trial. That will be a hard sell here, given the level of in-party and cross-party intrigue that virtually all sides have employed. In the court of public opinion at least, none of the litigants can win at this stage.
A lot of the testimony has also revolved around hearsay, actually leading the judge at one point to say that no one from Public Affairs remembers anything.
The judge himself though was baffled by the president’s complaint, saying he didn’t understand whether Mr Klaus objected to the trial itself or to the fact that it is open to the media, and added that the witnesses and defendants had been discussing the case in the media for a year already and therefore there was no point in closing the courtroom.
The other fact that is here to stay is Mr Bárta’s inherently flimsy defence, whereby he admits to having given money, but says they were loans for which there is no evidence. Even if the court finds that to be true, legally, for public figures to give such large sums of money to other politicians in envelopes is at the very least a violation of money laundering legislation. That may only be a misdemeanour offence legally, but the public, which is vociferously fed up with corruption scandals, is unlikely to see it that way. In any case, the trial will continue in April after the court has examined new evidence, and a verdict may be reached at that time.