News / Europe

Poland's Squeaky Clean Post-Communism Image Threatened

Marek Belka, governor of the Central Bank of Poland, holds gold at bank headquarters, Warsaw, June 17, 2011.
Marek Belka, governor of the Central Bank of Poland, holds gold at bank headquarters, Warsaw, June 17, 2011.
Reuters
The furor over a secretly recorded conversation between two senior Polish officials has so far focused on comments that call into question the independence of the central bank.

But businessman Zbigniew Jakubas says he is more upset about another part of the tape: a section in which, according to a transcript, Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and central bank governor Marek Belka discuss how they can pressure Jakubas's company to charge less for the coins it was proposing to mint under a state contract.

According to the transcript published by the Wprost magazine, Belka talks about the possibility of wielding a state “truncheon” against Jakubas's mint, Mennica Polska, and Sienkiewicz then alludes to organizing various branches of the government — such as the tax authorities and the central bureau of investigation — in the effort. The transcript does not contain details about what exactly the agencies would do.

Jakubas, 62, says that reading about the conversation made him recall Poland's days under communism, when the party imposed military rule and officials ordered his business destroyed.

“I'm not a vindictive person. But this hurts me,” Jakubas, ranked 14th among the wealthiest Poles by Forbes magazine, told Reuters in an interview.

“I thought that after 25 years of freedom .... things had moved on from martial law. But it seems some people still have it in their heads that they can do anything,” he said.

Asked to comment on Belka's remarks on the tape about the mint, a central bank spokesman referred Reuters to an earlier bank statement dealing with the tapes in general. That statement said Belka's remarks had been taken out of context, and that Belka has not stepped beyond the bounds of his authority.

Reuters contacted an interior ministry spokeswoman by phone and email requesting comment about Sienkiewicz's remarks about the mint. The spokeswoman did not provide a comment.

In a television interview, Sienkiewicz, when asked about the mint conversation, questioned the accuracy of the transcript — without saying which parts may be inaccurate — and said some of the phrases he used sounded worse than they were because they were a kind of shorthand used among friends.

Polish politics have been in an uproar since Saturday when Wprost published excerpts of the tape transcript and posted part of the audio on YouTube. In it, Belka is heard telling Sienkiewicz he would be willing to help the government out of its economic troubles if the finance minister were fired.

Prosecutors say they have no evidence Belka or Sienkiewicz broke the law in their conversation, which Wprost said took place in July last year. Prime Minister Donald Tusk says he sees no reason to fire Sienkiewicz, and Belka also remains in his position.

Neither Belka nor Sienkiewicz has denied the conversation took place but both have said their comments were misinterpreted and they did nothing illegal.

But many Poles — and foreign investors — are concerned about what the tape says about Poland's standards of governance, and wonder if the country is as upstanding as they believed it had become since Tusk's pro-market government came to power in 2007.

Poland has attracted huge investment since, partly because it is viewed as having better and cleaner governance than other emerging markets.

Peter Attard Montalto, emerging markets economist with Nomura, said the revelations have compelled Poland-watchers to think about political risks they had not considered for some time.

“The next steps will determine if we can settle back to such old ways or not,” he wrote in a research note.

‘Truncheon’

At the time the conversation took place, the central bank was inviting bids from firms to manufacture Poland's lowest denomination coins, the 1, 2 and 5 groszy coins.

Mennica Polska, which was already minting those coins under a prior contract, was invited to bid along with mints from Britain, Finland and Canada.

According to Belka's remarks in the transcript, his preference was to award the contract to Mennica Polska. There was public pressure for the contract to go to a Polish firm.

The contract was awarded in October last year to Britain's Royal Mint. The central bank said at the time that Britain's bid was lower than Mennica Polska's.

In the transcript, Belka talks about the difficulties of getting the Polish mint to lower its bid and says it was negotiating with an unnamed person who “already believes that we have robbed him.” Jakubas says the unnamed person was him, and Sienkiewicz later names him in the exchange.

According to the transcript, Sienkiewicz replies: “Perhaps we need to tell him how we can rob him more. Maybe he'll understand.”

Belka is quoted as saying that the person in question is taking advantage of a weakness in the position of state institutions.

“Even though at the end of the day the state does have this truncheon ... Here, what's needed is close cooperation with that truncheon,” Belka is quoted as saying in the transcript.

At this point, Sienkiewicz describes his experience bringing together the central bureau of investigation (CBS), the tax inspectorate (UKS) and the state treasury's intelligence arm to work on joint projects.

“It seems to me that at some point this will also be a very useful tool in our games with the kind of fat cats who believe they can act with impunity,” the transcript quotes Sienkiewicz as saying, referring to the mint's tough negotiating position.

He said when those agencies tried to act alone against Jakubas, whom he identified by name, they got nowhere. But, he said: “All together, collected into a pile, that is completely different, a completely different story.”

Asked specifically about his remarks on the mint by broadcaster TVN24, Sienkiewicz said: “I have never in any respect, either in my words or actions, stepped beyond the law and truthfully speaking I was acting to the benefit of the Polish state.”

Jakubas told Reuters he found the transcripts chilling.

In the 1980s, after quitting a job as a teacher in a technical college, he ran a network of clothing boutiques in Warsaw and a business in eastern Poland making clothes.

At the time, the Communist authorities tolerated some modest private enterprise. But he said that, on “orders from the top of the party,” tax inspectors tried to wreck his business in the eastern Polish town of Biala Podlaska.

They failed. His holding company, Multico, now includes the mint, train manufacturer Newag, a gas pipeline maker, a publisher and a film production company. Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at 1.3 billion zlotys ($425.20 million).

He said of the leaked tape: “It's not just a question of the personal damage, but it's the fact that in our country, which we believed already to be a country ruled by law, this situation can happen where a minister talks about taking a truncheon to someone.”

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs