Public Affairs dismisses top member amid corruption allegations

Jaroslav Škárka

The Public Affairs party expelled one of its top members on Tuesday evening, deputy chairman Jaroslav Škárka, after he had told the press that the party was paying him under the table to ensure his silence on financial dealings. If true, such accusations could ruin the self-styled anti-corruption party, and whether true or not, they further unbalance a coalition government already beleaguered by scandals. Christian Falvey has a rundown of the events of the last few days.

Jaroslav Škárka
Jaroslav Škárka has often been called the second man in Public Affairs, a questionable title in a party where it is often unclear who exactly runs what. In any case, he held a key role as the party’s deputy chairman, vice-chair of its steering committee and plenipotentiary responsible for signing official – including finance – documents. Jaroslav Škárka was the chairman of Public Affairs for four years until the election of Radek John, and he is one of few who have a complete knowledge of the party’s financial dealings.

Thus it was all the more surprising when the same Mr Škárka told the weekly journal Respekt that he had been taking part in in-party corruption since October, receiving an assumedly untaxed half-million crowns in under the table envelopes from other high-ranking party officials. This, he reportedly told off-the-record to a reporter with a recording device concealed in her cleavage, while trembling in terror that he was being followed and intimidated and begging that he not be named under any circumstances whatsoever – all of which Respekt promptly published.

Radek John (in the center), photo: CTK
Bafflingly, Jaroslav Škárka’s first response to his exposure was to laugh the story off as a bit of theatre. Once he had realised he was being taped, he said, he thought he would have a laugh and weave a yarn for the unsuspecting scoop-seeker. Public Affairs’ top leadership however took the joke rather seriously, unleashing a slew of bitter words the likes of asinine, absurd, and idiotic to describe the former party leader’s contentions.

With that, Mr Škárka went to the daily Mladá fronta Dnes to confess that he had lied when he said he was kidding and that for the last six months his loyalty and secrecy had been rewarded with 55,000 crown payments from the party’s inspector Radim Vysloužil and budget committee member Michal Babák. An additional windfall came last week, he said, in the form of 170,000 crowns from the party’s grey eminence, Transportation Minister and former private detective Vít Bárta.

Vít Bárta, photo: CTK
Some within Public Affairs have cried conspiracy. According to Mr Babák, all clues on Škárka’s revelations point to the Civic Democrat “godfathers” who are intent on infiltrating the party and subverting it and the government (which they lead). More prosaically, Public Affairs MP Stanislav Huml has repeatedly warned of wolves in the party’s fold, most recently calling the party’s leadership “capable of anything” and warning his fellow members in the anti-corruption party of being puppets of the Bárta family’s detective agency.

Mr Škárka was expelled from the party on Tuesday evening in absentia; Mr Huml will be expelled on Thursday, inside sources tell the daily Právo. With that, the party that has been most intent on keeping its votes together becomes the first to release two potential defectors.

Each new revelation in this case has been accompanied by threats of lawsuits and police investigations. Public Affairs is suing Mr Škárka for his claims, Mr Škárka has filed a complaint with the police that he is being intimidated, the police are investigating Mr Škárka for corruption, the Civic Democrats demand an apology from Michal Babák, who in turn is considering filing a suit against Jaroslav Škárka for slander. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek, who features nowhere in this three-day saga, has threatened to sue everyone involved.

The opposition Social Democrats were unsurprisingly quick to demand the resignation of Vít Bárta and a vote of confidence in the government. If confirmed, they say, the accusations would mean the most serious corruption scandal in the Czech Parliament’s history. What course the rest of the coalition will take through the situation remains to be seen, but with several other scandals and alleged scandals on the table, their current position is now more precarious than ever.