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PARTIES SAY THEY WILL WAIT FOR THE RESULTS OF INVESTIGATIONS BEFORE TAKING ACTION

Tapping talks get nowhere

ACCUMULATING surveillance scandals that swept Slovakia over the last two months have forced the heads of the country's four ruling parties to sit down together and exchange views on what should be done to prevent similar problems in the future.
At a February 25 meeting of the coalition council, a senior political body, the ruling parties agreed to wait for the completion of the ongoing investigation into two wire-tapping cases before deciding on concrete measures to prevent such cases from happening again.
The first surveillance scandal broke in early January, when Pavol Rusko, head of the coalition's New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party received a tape on which his telephone interview with a reporter from a daily SME was recorded.


PRIME Minister Dzurinda would not respond to allegations that his party has "scandalous" business links.
photo: TASR

ACCUMULATING surveillance scandals that swept Slovakia over the last two months have forced the heads of the country's four ruling parties to sit down together and exchange views on what should be done to prevent similar problems in the future.

At a February 25 meeting of the coalition council, a senior political body, the ruling parties agreed to wait for the completion of the ongoing investigation into two wire-tapping cases before deciding on concrete measures to prevent such cases from happening again.

The first surveillance scandal broke in early January, when Pavol Rusko, head of the coalition's New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party received a tape on which his telephone interview with a reporter from a daily SME was recorded.

Then, in early February, several local media companies and top politicians received a number of transcripts purporting to be of telephone calls featuring influential Bratislava businessman Ján Badžgoň.

Among the transcripts was one that showed Badžgoň talking about a Swiss bank account with Gabriel Palacka, former transport minister and member of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ).

After the meeting of the coalition council, Dzurinda said: "We will discuss the matter when the investigation is completed and when the partners have studied the details."

ANO has agreed to temporarily withdraw a number of demands the party made to its coalition partners in January. Saying it wanted to "restore trust" within the coalition, ANO had requested the introduction of so-called cross control in the country's security bodies.

Under the current division of power, political nominees from the Christian Democrats (KDH) and the SDKÚ are in charge of the interior and defence ministries. ANO had proposed that to avoid possible misuse of the power, all four of the coalition partners should have the right to nominate their candidates to select posts in these institutions.

The discovery of the illegal surveillance material has led politicians and the public to wonder whether the wire-tapping system used by the Interior Ministry and the Slovak Information Service (SIS) is being misused.

In addition, the Badžgoň transcripts raised questions about the transparency of the funding of the prime minister's SDKÚ party.

Prior to the coalition council meeting, ANO deputy chairman Ľubomír Lintner said: "The situation is serious and we should ask ourselves how this state works and who actually runs it."

Pavol Hrušovský, head of KDH, called the suggested cronyism between the SDKÚ and the businessman "scandalous", and said his party would require Dzurinda to thoroughly explain the allegations.

Dzurinda, however, said the Badžgoň transcripts showed traces of "mafia practices" and refused to comment on the speculation surrounding his party's alleged connections with the businessman.

"I am outraged that the name of the SDKÚ party should be connected with any illegal behaviour and I would like to point out that putting the transcripts in the media only plays in favour of those who are behind them," he said.

In a recent interview with daily SME, Jozef Šátek, Slovakia's deputy chief investigator, admitted that surveillance material might be being bought and sold in the country as a discreditation tool.

Currently, the SIS and the Interior Ministry are entitled to carry out surveillance, provided a court order has been obtained, and both institutions were named in the Rusko scandal.

At the coalition council meeting, partners discussed ways to prevent possible misuse of surveillance technology and leaks of legally obtained surveillance material at the SIS and the Interior Ministry.

The Hungarian Coalition party (SMK) proposed that a completely new surveillance office be set up, in which only people who have never collaborated with the communist regime would work. The SIS admitted recently that nearly 10 per cent of its staff worked for the communist secret service in the past.

The office would carry out all legal surveillance for state authorities, such as the police and the SIS, but would be under direct control of parliament and independent from the security bodies.

Interior Minister Vladimír Palko said he was opposed to the SMK proposal.

"I'm not sure what it would achieve except for the fact that yet another special force would be established. And on top of that, I think that the [creation of the surveillance office] would not prevent human error," Palko said.

For his part, he presented his partners with a list of six measures that he said would strengthen control of the use of surveillance technology, known as ITP.

The measures include a revision of the law on ITP, setting up a parliamentary committee for the control of bodies using ITP, and requiring that all employees who use ITP undergo lie-detector tests when entering the job and every time an appointed authority requests it.

The SMK rejected Palko's proposals, repeating that a completely new specialised surveillance office should be established.

"The chaos that exists here [in the surveillance sphere] shows that the use of ITP must be concentrated in one centre," said head of SMK parliamentary caucus Gyula Bárdos.

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