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Tape scandal: PM threatens early elections in Poland

PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 19.06.2014 09:38
PM Tusk could call snap elections if a “crisis of confidence” worsens following release of illegally recorded tapes purportedly showing political collusion between central bank and government.

Donald Tusk threatens snap election, Friday morning: photo - PAP/Radek Pietruszka

“It may be that early elections are the only solution to this problem,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk said at a hastily arranged press conference early on Thursday morning in Warsaw.

Tusk said the elections could take place “in a few weeks” if a “crisis of confidence” in the political process is not abated, in what is the worst political scandal to hit the centre-right government since it first came to power in 2007.

The press conference followed a raid by Internal Security Agency officers at the editorial offices of Wprost magazine on Wednesday in an attempt to confiscate tapes of illegally recorded conversations between central bank governor Marek Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sinkiewicz.

A violent struggle broke out between the officers and journalists during the raid.

Wprost magazine claims that deals were discussed for the National Bank to take actions which would favour the Civic Platform-led government ahead of the scheduled general elections in Poland in 2015, if the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party threatened to win the ballot.

Wprost has so far released around one hour of transcripts from the tapes recoding the conversation between the national bank chief and interior minister.

Recordings of conversations between other politicians, Poland's richest man Jan Kulczyk and others are also in the magazine's possession.

PM Tusk said he was not informed of the raid at the editorial offices beforehand but called on the journalists to release all the materials for public consumption.

“It is not our intention to suppress these materials but to reveal to the public their entire contents,” Tusk said, adding that it was “in the public interest that all contents of the recordings are released".

Wprost editor-in-chief Sylwester Latkowski has said that not all the materials are yet ready for publication, however.

Two raids

Officers from the Internal Security Agency (ABW) raided the Wprost editorial offices twice on Wednesday: once around noon and then again at 8 pm in the evening, accompanied by prosecutor Jozef Gacek.

photo - PAP

Scuffles between journalists and officers took place during the raid, as the editor of Wprost refused to hand over the tapes in an attempt to protect sources.

Prosecutors are working to the brief that the recordings were made illegally, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison in Poland.

The prosecutors left the building empty handed at around 11 pm last night.

“In view of the escalating conflict, in particular the threat to the health and safety of prosecutors and Internal Security Agency officers performing a search of the premises, and the lack of proper security provided on the spot by police officers, prosecutors were forced to withdraw,” state prosecutor spokeswoman Renata Mazur has said.

Police HQ spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said 13 police officers were on site but received no requests from prosecutors to intervene in the conflict.

Journalists are protected by law in Poland if they believe they are acting in the public interest.

PM Tusk said on Thursday that he will access the position of Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, who is accused of trying to manipulate the activities of the National Bank of Poland in favour of the political interests of the Civic Platform-led government “at the beginning of next week”.

Central banker Marek Belka, a former prime minister of Poland, has refused to resign, claiming that the independence of the National Bank of Poland had not been threatened by the conversation he had with the interior minister.

Shares prices fell at the Warsaw Stock Exchange after the magazine released transcripts of parts of the conversation last Sunday, as the independence of the central bank was questioned.

The Law and Justice opposition party says it will call for a no confidence vote in parliament so as to dismiss the government.

Donald Tusk said earlier this week that the recorded tapes were “an attempt to bring down the government by illegal means”.

Tusk's Civic Platform party currently trails in opinion polls behind the Law and Justice opposition.

It is unknown who is actually secretly taping politicians and top officials, with speculation that former agents from the secret services are involved for personal financial gain. (pg)

Update - See video on Wprost web site of what appears to be a violent attack by ABW officers on the magazine's editor-in-chief as they try to grab his laptop. Voice in the foregound is shouting: "Shame!"

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