Polish lobbying scandal claims scalps

A growing lobbying scandal in Poland has cost the ruling Civic Platform party two of its leading figures, and on Tuesday threatened to engulf the head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, an agency set up to root out government graft.

The scandal surrounds conversations – one of which took place in a graveyard – between a senior member of the party and the head of a casino company. The conversations, which were recorded by the Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and published by a newspaper last week, involved the gambling industry’s attempts to change a new law that would impose higher gambling taxes.

Zbigniew Chlebowski, the former leader of Civic Platform’s parliamentary wing, who was recorded talking to the casino boss, denied all wrongdoing. “These were friendly conversations, it was an unfortunate choice of words, but I did not commit any forbidden act,” he said. But he was forced to step down last week as parliamentary leader and head of the finance committee by prime minister Donald Tusk.

The conversations also mentioned Miroslaw Drzewiecki, the sports minister, and appeared to refer to Grzegorz Schetyna, the interior minister and Mr Tusk’s powerful lieutenant.

On Monday, Mr Drzewiecki, also denying any misconduct, handed his resignation in to Mr Tusk, telling reporters: “I stand before you with a raised head and say farewell. With the hope . . . no the certainty, that if these matters are clarified we will be able to meet again.”

Then on Tuesday prosecutors charged Mariusz Kaminski, the head of the CBA and a political foe of Mr Tusk, over the way his agency undertook a sting operation more than two years ago against a leading minister of the previous government. Mr Kaminski said that the timing of the charges was linked to the current lobbying scandal.

“The accusations filed against me have no factual or legal basis,” he said during a press conference.

Although no charges have been made, the lobbying affair is an enormous embarrassment to Mr Tusk, who was informed about the problem in August by Mr Kaminski.

Mr Tusk’s party rose to prominence during the implosion of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance, which was inundated in spectacular corruption scandals before losing power in 2005.

In a reaction to those scandals, the right-wing government of the Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, created the CBA as a special agency to hunt down political corruption. The bureau has not been blessed with many successes – one of its sting operations backfired and helped bring down Mr Kaczynski’s government in 2007.

Widespread popular disgust both at left-wing corruption and right-wing witch hunts helped bring the centrist Civic Platform party to power. The danger for Mr Tusk is that the scandal may tarnish his party’s clean image, potentially causing him problems next year, when he is seen as a likely candidate to run against the incumbent president Lech Kaczynski.

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