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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 14, 2009
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Heads Roll in Political Scandal
October 14, 2009 By R.S.    
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In the wake of a gambling scandal in which prominent Civic Platform (PO) politicians have been accused of lobbying for their business friends, Prime Minister Donald Tusk reshuffled his government, dismissing and sidelining some of his closest aides. This was the largest shakeup since the government was formed almost two years ago.

The gambling bill reflects some of Poland's ills-the dangers of lobbying, low political standards and the use of security services for political goals, Tusk said Oct. 8 in parliament as he answered deputies' questions about the gambling scandal. The affair broke out a week earlier after the media disclosed the transcripts of conversations held by businessmen active in the gambling industry tapped by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA).

Shady dealings
Among the people the businessmen talked to were PO politicians, including Zbigniew Chlebowski, head of the PO parliamentary group and chairman of the parliamentary committee for public finances, and Sports Minister Mirosław Drzewiecki. The transcripts suggest that the two politicians were involved in attempts to make sure that the gambling bill-on which the parliament had worked for four years-did not include provisions that would raise taxes on gambling. Such provisions would benefit the owners of casinos and slot machines and other people operating in the business, but could cost the government up to zl.500 million.

"Chlebowski and Drzewiecki have acted scandalously. This issue is impossible to defend. It has to be exposed and explained, and appropriate staffing decisions have to be made," Tusk told parliamentarians. Chlebowski and Drzewiecki lost their posts a few days earlier. This was followed by a series of resignations within the government and among the prime minister's closest aides.

Chlebowski was suspended as head of the PO parliamentary group and resigned from the post of chairman of the committee for public finances on the evening of Oct. 1 after the media reported on the lobbying scandal. Chlebowski said he regretted his words used in a private conversation with the businessmen and added he never tried to turn those words into action.

But the recorded conversations do not leave much doubt: Chlebowski told one of the businessmen he had "single-handedly tried to block" provisions unfavorable for the gambling business for almost a year and added he counted on support from several other prominent PO politicians. He only mentioned their diminutive first names, but the politicians could easily be identified. Among them was Mirosław Drzewiecki, called "Miro" by Chlebowski.

Drzewiecki first tried to excuse himself to Tusk and then to the public at a press conference, but failed to convince the media that he was innocent. He was unable to explain the circumstances in which his ministry submitted to the finance ministry proposals for changes to the bill favorable to the businessmen and he also failed to explain the nature of his relations with these people. Drzewiecki resigned Oct. 5 after another talk with Tusk.

Cleaning house
More heads rolled the next day. The first to resign was Grzegorz Schetyna, the deputy prime minister and interior minister considered to be number two in the PO, and the party's leader in Lower Silesia, the province where the businessmen involved in the scandal come from. His diminutive first name Grze¶ also appeared in the tapped conversations.

Schetyna was followed by Justice Minister Andrzej Czuma, who had fiercely defended Chlebowski and Drzewiecki, saying they were "absolutely innocent." Then, deputy economy minister Adam Szejnfeld, also believed to be involved in the scandal, stood down as well.

Major reshuffles were also made in the Prime Minister's Office, with Paweł Gra¶, government spokesman, Sławomir Nowak, the prime minister's chief of staff, and senior official Rafał Grupiński quitting their posts. Tusk wants them to return to work in the parliament where they are supposed to support Schetyna in the PO's "war for truth," as Tusk put it, with the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party. As head of the PO parliamentary group, Schetyna will be the party's commander-in-chief in this battle.

Political battle
"The gambling bill involves a big political war in which accusations against the PO have been used as an excuse," Tusk said. "The only condition for the PO to work normally is to try to quickly explain this case. It would be hypocritical to deny that PiS with the help of the CBA wants to attack the PO and the government." Tusk added he had launched a procedure to oust Mariusz Kamiński as CBA head.

Kamiński, a strong supporter of PiS, has aroused much controversy ever since the CBA was set up and he became its head. He has been accused of being guided exclusively by political considerations in his work. When the PO came to power in 2007 it was expected that Kamiński would soon be removed, but he kept his job.

Tusk decided to oust him now, after the gambling scandal broke out and after Kamiński suggested at a press conference that the CBA operation, codenamed Black Jack and designed to uncover the gambling scandal, could have been torpedoed by a leak from the Prime Minister's Office. Kamiński said contacts between PO politicians and the businessmen had ended suddenly after he reported on the matter to the prime minister. PiS politicians, including the party's leader Jarosław Kaczyński, even alleged that Tusk, trying to defend his party colleagues, could have been the source of the leak himself.

The parliamentary committee for secret services Oct. 7 approved Tusk's decision to oust Kamiński. Such a decision has to be consulted with the president, but the prime minister has the right to dismiss the CBA head even if the president is against it, which is almost certain in this case.

In his first comments after hearing about Tusk's decision, President Lech Kaczyński, the twin brother of the PiS leader, said he was surprised that after the outbreak of a major scandal in government circles, a state official who had uncovered the scandal was being removed from his post.

Meanwhile, Tusk approved a proposal from the opposition that a special investigation committee be set up in parliament to examine the scandal. "Two things have to be done in a determined way-the gambling scandal has to be explained and Poland has to be protected against political traps set by the opposition," Tusk said.

Political analysts and public opinion experts agree that the committee's work will be a "political show" and a major attention grabber this fall.
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