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TRANSCRIPTS INDICATE SECURITY BODIES TAPPED PHONE OF POLITICALLY LINKED BUSINESSMAN

Phone-tapping scandal escalates

WHILE the ruling coalition has still not worked through the crisis caused by the illegal phone-tapping of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party boss Pavol Rusko, a new case of phone-tapping is already troubling the government.
On February 14 the daily SME and TV station Joj received the transcripts of 25 phone calls and two mobile-phone text messages ostensibly linked to high-profile entrepreneur Ján Badžgoň.
Copies of the transcripts were also sent to parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrušovský, head of the parliamentary defence committee and Smer MP Róbert Kaliňák, and parliamentary deputy speakers Béla Bugár, Zuzana Martináková, Viliam Veteška, and Pavol Rusko.


A SPOKESMAN explains the phone-tapping system the Interior Ministry shares with the secret service.
photo: TASR

WHILE the ruling coalition has still not worked through the crisis caused by the illegal phone-tapping of the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party boss Pavol Rusko, a new case of phone-tapping is already troubling the government.

On February 14 the daily SME and TV station Joj received the transcripts of 25 phone calls and two mobile-phone text messages ostensibly linked to high-profile entrepreneur Ján Badžgoň.

Copies of the transcripts were also sent to parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrušovský, head of the parliamentary defence committee and Smer MP Róbert Kaliňák, and parliamentary deputy speakers Béla Bugár, Zuzana Martináková, Viliam Veteška, and Pavol Rusko.

The transcripts were sent anonymously, leading politicians and the media to speculate about their origin and the motivation behind their leak.

"It could be a warning that [illegal phone tapping] is still taking place, or a warning that these recent cases that have come to light are not the only instances," said Rusko.

In January, recordings of a conversation between Rusko and a SME reporter were found in the Interior Ministry's tapping system. Both the ministry and the Slovak Information Service (SIS) have been implicated in that surveillance scandal, which is currently being investigated.

According to coalition and opposition politicians who received and viewed the latest transcripts, the documents raise questions about the practices used by Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) representatives.

One transcript appears to be of a call between Badžgoň and former transportation minister and current member of the SDKÚ presidium Gabriel Palacka. Palacka had to leave the ministry in 1999 due to suspicions of corruption.

"Palacka asks Badžgoň whether Horák from Switzerland called. Badžgoň says, 'Yes, André confirmed that it went through the [Swiss bank] UBS account. We should meet him in Prague to conclude matters...'" the transcript reads.

Another part states: "M.S. tells Badžgoň, 'I would like to talk to you about one very specific issue, with which you could perhaps help me. It's about some personnel issues at higher levels, because you have such a good friend'."

"[Some of the transcript] clearly shows that the SDKÚ has no problem whatsoever behaving corruptly," said Kaliňák from the opposition Smer party.

According to Rusko, the recordings document close ties between leading business and political figures.

"We don't know why those recordings were made, but it is definitely worth considering what type of people I have around me," Rusko said.

"I will be very interested to see how the SDKÚ deals with this," said Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) boss Béla Bugár.

On February 18, the SDKÚ issued a statement in which it called the entire case a political provocation.

"The SDKÚ rejects any attempts to connect the name of the party and its representatives with any illegal acts. The SDKÚ refuses to get involved in these games," the statement said.

The transcripts state that the conversations were recorded from October 8 to October 16 2002, shortly after Slovakia's parliamentary elections. The authenticity of some recordings was confirmed by the people with whom Badžgoň talked, but Badžgoň himself would not say whether or not the documents were transcripts of genuine conversations.

"I have not had the chance to hear any recordings and I therefore can not judge [the veracity of the transcripts]," said Badžgoň in an interview with the daily Pravda.

The transcripts show Badžgoň talking to numerous personalities from the business sphere, including Social Security company boss Miroslav Knitl, railway boss Ladislav Saxa, and Hewlett-Packard executive Peter Weber.

In Slovakia, phone tapping is permitted by security bodies only with a court order. Police vice-president Jaroslav Spišiak has not ruled out the possibility that the recordings were made legally.

The same team of specialised investigators that is dealing with the Rusko case has been drafted in to investigate the Badžgoň phone-tapping.

Gyula Bárdos, the head of the SMK's parliamentary caucus, proposed establishing a specialised office that would perform phone-tapping for the various agencies that currently engage in the activity - the SIS, Interior Ministry, and the Railway Police. The office, controlled directly by parliament, would employ only people who had never collaborated with the communist-era secret service and who had been cleared by the National Security Agency.

Smer's Kaliňák expressed support for the SMK proposal, saying that a similar system had led to good results in Hungary.

The idea was also welcomed by ANO.

"If phone tapping was centralised in such an office, controlled by the parliament, it would solve the need for cross-supervision at the Interior Ministry," said Rusko.

ANO has demanded such supervision since the recording of Rusko's conversation was released. The party has suggested that one of its members step in at a senior level in the security bodies to "restore trust".

But for the time being, many are wondering who will be next.

"This may not be only about me and the parliamentary deputy speaker [Rusko]. This could turn into a never-ending saga," said Badžgoň in the daily SME.

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