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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » February 4, 2010
Politics
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High-Stakes Battle in Gambling Probe
February 4, 2010   
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Emotions are running high as a special parliamentary commission investigates a scandal involving prominent politicians of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party, who allegedly lobbied illegally for businessmen operating casinos and video arcades.

The gambling scandal broke out Oct. 1 after the media disclosed transcripts of conversations held by businessmen involved in the gambling industry tapped by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA). The most controversial transcripts were from conversations between Zbigniew Chlebowski, then head of the PO caucus and chairman of the parliamentary committee on public finance, and Wrocław-based gambling business tycoon Ryszard Sobiesiak. The transcripts appeared to suggest Chlebowski may have been helping Sobiesiak and other businessmen in the gambling sector by lobbying to change a law on games of chance and pari-mutuel betting. Apparently, the sports minister at the time, Mirosław Drzewiecki, was also involved in the process. The two politicians subsequently lost their jobs and Prime Minister Donald Tusk pledged to have the affair clarified by a special investigation commission in the lower house of parliament. In the meantime, the parliament passed a new gambling bill that included none of the controversial regulations proposed by gambling industry insiders.

The special commission was appointed a few weeks later, but it instantly became a political battlefield. Chlebowski, Drzewiecki and other PO members argued from the start that the scandal had been fabricated by Mariusz Kamiński, the then head of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, an institution widely believed to be tied to the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party. Kamiński was dismissed as CBA head after he alleged that Tusk had tipped off fellow PO politicians about the bureau's planned operation.

The government coalition has four seats in the seven-member commission. The PO filled three seats, including that of commission chairman, and the junior coalition partner Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) has one seat. Two of the opposition's three seats went to PiS and one to leftists.

According to some critics, the government coalition has full control over the commission's proceedings, and the commission's chairman, Mirosław Sekuła, turned a deaf ear when key witnesses including Chlebowski and Drzewiecki said they could not remember facts or gave contradictory answers.

Kamiński, on the other hand, was described as a politically motivated liar and manipulator by PO-affiliated witnesses when he claimed Civic Platform politicians were embroiled up to their ears in corrupt practices designed to benefit gambling bosses.

The commission was scheduled to question Tusk at the beginning of February, in what promised to be the political highlight of its hearings.
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