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KDH taps controversy

THOUGH it has remained consistently divided for the past two years, the parliamentary opposition may manage to unite to shake the seat of Interior Minister Vladimír Palko, arguing that he shares responsibility for lost wiretapping records that should have served as evidence in the corruption case of one of his party peers.
Seven out of eight recordings of legally tapped phone calls pertaining to the charges of bribery against Rača mayor Pavol Bielik, a top official of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), were lost due to a technical failure on the Interior Ministry's wiretapping archive system.
The KDH said it stands firmly behind Deputy Chairman Palko, who said he has no intention whatsoever of resigning.


Missing corruption evidence sparks demands for a head to roll
photo: TASR

THOUGH it has remained consistently divided for the past two years, the parliamentary opposition may manage to unite to shake the seat of Interior Minister Vladimír Palko, arguing that he shares responsibility for lost wiretapping records that should have served as evidence in the corruption case of one of his party peers.

Seven out of eight recordings of legally tapped phone calls pertaining to the charges of bribery against Rača mayor Pavol Bielik, a top official of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), were lost due to a technical failure on the Interior Ministry's wiretapping archive system.

The KDH said it stands firmly behind Deputy Chairman Palko, who said he has no intention whatsoever of resigning.

"The party appreciates the principal steps taken by Palko, which has been to gradually renew citizens' faith in justice and the principle that the law applies to everyone. This principle has also been observed during the criminal prosecution of Rača's mayor," reads the KDH stand provided to The Slovak Spectator.

The party said it was absurd to suspect the minister of undermining the criminal investigation of Bielik.

The KDH sees no connection between the loss of the recordings and the shared party affiliation of Bielik and Palko absurd as well.

At its August 24 session the ruling coalition stated its continued confidence in Palko.

That day, Palko told the press that he would have to be a masochist to assist in the loss of the recordings in any way. However, he promised to penalise those who erred.

Police Vice President Jaroslav Spišiak confirmed on August 20 that all the recordings from January 1 to January 22 were lost on March 3 when, in an apparent technical error, the records were not transferred to a new archiving system called discobolos. The lost recordings cannot be recovered.

The special prosecutor has already started criminal prosecution for impeding the investigation process and is examining whether the records were erased intentionally or accidentally.

Spišiak excluded the possibility that the records were erased intentionally. He confirmed that the police have transcripts of the phone calls, but these cannot be used as evidence in court.

"It is an objective but cruel reality," Spišiak told news wire SITA.

The interior department decided on the installation of the new archiving system, which was attached to the central wiretapping system named tornado last year. The device crashed in March and recordings from the first three weeks of January disappeared, Palko explained.

From January 1 to March 3, there were 367 cases in which the police ran wiretaps through the tornado system.

Palko, however, lashed out at media, specifically at the private TV broadcaster Markíza, for blowing the technical problem out of proportion with the intention of discrediting him.

In May, the investigators of the Office for the Fight Against Corruption requested the wiretapping unit to prepare eight phone conversations involving Bielik for the use of the court.

The New Citizens Alliance said that, though it does not yet plan to support the opposition's calls to sack Palko, it will still demand an explanation.

Party leader Pavol Rusko has also experienced the shortcomings of the wiretapping systems.

In January 2003, Rusko received a tape containing a conversation he had had with a reporter from the daily SME. A recording of that interview, done without the required permission, was later found in the tapping system of the Interior Ministry. At that time, Rusko believed himself the target of the ministry's surveillance and called for Palko's resignation.

However, Palko claimed that the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) was behind the bugging. The scandal cost former SIS boss Vladimír Mitro his post and three of the service's agents were charged with the abuse of power.

Robert Fico, head of the opposition party Smer, who insisted that tape recordings do not just disappear, said that Palko must go.

However, Fico is aware that initiating a no-confidence motion in parliament is meaningless unless the opposition has the support of some ruling coalition deputies.

Ladislav Polka, a member of the parliamentary security committee and an independent deputy formerly associated with the HZDS, was shocked to hear about the loss of the recordings.

"This stinks of a serious misuse of power with political undertone," Polka told the press.

Ján Kovarčík of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia also suggested that Palko should consider resignation.

The Free Forum remained rather reserved in its comments on the loss of the recordings.

"We have an agreement with the KDH and SMK that in such situations we will consult each other over the problems. We are very interested in consultation with Mr Palko," said the party chairwoman, Zuzana Martinaková.

Bielik was charged in April with requesting a bribe of Sk5 million (€124.7 million) from the company Invest In for support for a project and construction contract arrangements. In July, Bielik was also charged with the crime of violating the duties of administration of entrusted property.

According to the daily SME, Bielik approved Sk750,000 (€18,706) for different projects in 1999 without the consent of the Rača local council. Reportedly, Sk20,000 (€499) of that money went to religious broadcaster Radio Lumen, Sk15,000 (€347) to the School of Religious Studies, and Sk10,000 (€249) to the Slovak Christian Association of Pensioners in Bratislava.

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