Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Analysis

Poland: Waitergate not over yet

  • Radoslaw Sikorski. a former foreign minister, resigned his from his position as speaker of the parliament (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

A bombshell exploded in Polish politics last week.

Zbigniew Stonoga, a little known businessman and anti-establishment activist, published online over 2,000 pages of files from the Public Prosecutor's Office concerning one of the most publicised scandals of 2014: the Waitergate affair.

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Waitergate saw scores of politicians, businessmen, lobbyists and other public figures recorded frankly discussing business and politics over €500-dinners funded by tax payers' money in two upscale restaurants in Warsaw.

The scandal broke last year, but the governing party managed to brush it aside.

What was meant to go with the wind has now come back with a strength of a hurricane.

Last Wednesday (10 June), several top politicians resigned and prime minister Eva Kopacz was left apologising to the nation four months before parliamentary elections.

Late

Those made to resign were Radoslaw Sikorski, speaker of the parliament, and the ministers in charge of health, treasury, security and sports.

The resignations were seen as coming too late, especially as the publication of the Stonoga files brought the tape scandal back into focus but didn’t really bring any new facts.

It seemed as if Kopacz was trying to make sure that her taped colleagues do not taint her, or the Civic Platform party more generally, ahead of the October election.

Civic Platform is falling out of favour with the public anyway. It’s down to third place in polls, with only 17 percent of voters prepared to back it in the autumn vote.

The Law and Justice Party is polling first (25%), musician-turned-politician Pawel Kukiz is on 20 percent, and the newly established liberal group, Nowoczesna.pl, led by a former CP supporter and well-known economist, Ryszard Petru, is on 10 percent.

Political revenge

It is still unknown who is behind Waitergate scandal.

The prosecution is running an investigation against Polish millionaire and businessman Marek Falenta and his alleged associates - two waiters from the restaurants where the recordings were made.

The waiters accuse Falenta of asking for the recordings but he denies it.

There is much speculation that Falenta wanted to get material to politically avenge the arrests of top managers from his newly-acquired coal company, SkladyWegla.pl.

The managers' arrests, in January 2014, came the same day as Falenta started to sell cheaper Russian coal at a very competitive price. The businessman always said he was against the government limiting Russian coal imports to protect the interests of Polish miners. The recordings were passed to the Wprost magazine in June 2014, the same day as the last arrests of SkladyWegla.pl managers took place.

This Russian link made it possible for Donald Tusk, current president of European Council, and then Polish prime minister, to point the finger at Russia and at an unknown “organised criminal group”, which, he said, was trying to destablise Poland due to its hardline Russia stance at the EU level.

Tusk emphasised that the bugging of private conversations is illegal, which took attention away from what the politicians were actually saying.

No proof of illegal action

The scandal dates back to 2013 when small bugging devices were hidden in the VIP rooms in the restaurants. The recorded conversations were revealing on both the personal and political front.

Marek Belka, governor of the central bank - meant to be an apolitical body - was recorded suggesting to the interior minister that he could ease monetary policy to help the government win the 2015 election in exchange for axing the finance minister.

Radosław Sikorski, the then foreign minister, was recorded giving a frank review of Poland’s alliance with the US to the finance minister at the time Jacek Rostowski.

He called it “worthless” and compared the relationship to oral sex.

Elzbieta Bienkowska, current EU internal market commissioner, was recorded saying that “only an idiot or a thief” would work for 6,000 zlotys (€1,500) per month, which she described as “poverty wage”. The majority of Poles earn less then that.

The conversations also underscored the close ties between business and politics, shedding some light on the deals of Jan Kulczyk, one of the richest Poles, who is famous for doing million-dollar deals with the government.

But until now none of those recordings revealed any illegal actions. They were mostly seen as an ilustration of the arrogance of the ruling class.

Journalists are already digging into the files.

They are likely to generate many more headlines.

What is as yet unclear is whether Kopacz's belated culling at the top of Civic Platform will save the party at the ballot box later this year.

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