Scandal within junior coalition member Public Affairs shakes government

Radek John, Vít Bárta, photo: CTK

Corruption allegations against the junior member of the governing coalition, Public Affairs, are threatening to further unbalance a government that has seen its share of scandals over the past months. Public Affairs’ deputy chairman Jaroslav Škárka was dismissed from the self-styled anti-corruption party on Tuesday, after his claims that he was getting paid to ensure his silence on the party’s financial dealings became public. His allegations against party leader and transport minister Vít Bárta have unfurled speculation whether or not the government can weather the storm – or has to think of an alternative coalition scenario.

Radek John, Vít Bárta, photo: CTK
Four months after it survived a vote of no confidence, the three-party government coalition is faced with yet another serious crisis. Allegations of corruption within junior coalition member Public Affairs, brought forward by its now expelled deputy chairman Jaroslav Škárka, are threatening to destabilize a government plagued by scandals.

At the center of the corruption affair is a leading figure of Public Affairs, Transport Minister Vít Bárta, from whom Škárka claims to have received regular payments of 55,000 Czech crowns to ensure his secrecy on party financing, as well as a separate one-time cash sum of 170,000 crowns.

Jaroslav Škárka
Prime Minister Petr Nečas says he is taking the situation very seriously but is not going to give Public Affairs an ultimatum. The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported that the prime minister met with senior members of both the Civic Democrats and Public Affairs on Thursday to discuss possible alternative coalition scenarios. Without Public Affairs, Nečas’ Civic Democrats and the right-of-center TOP 09 party would no longer be able to form a majority coalition.

On its website, Mladá fronta Dnes weighed the possibility of early elections. Nečas distanced himself from the speculations, calling them unfounded.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
After being expelled from the party on Tuesday, Škárka handed over materials that he says prove his allegations to the Prague state prosecutor's office on Wednesday. Among the items he submitted was an envelope with 170,000 crowns in cash, which he says bears both his own and Bárta’s fingerprints.

Bohuslav Sobotka, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, has called on the prime minister to dismiss Bárta. Should the disintegration of the Public Affairs party continue, the opposition says it will put the government to the test with yet another vote of no confidence.