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PRESSURE GROWS WITHIN PARTY RANKS FOR TOP KDH OFFICIAL TO RESIGN OVER BRIBERY SCANDAL

KDH versus KDH

INTERNAL pressure is growing within the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) for Pavol Bielik to resign. Chairman of the KDH regional branch in Bratislava and mayor of Rača, Bielik is charged with accepting Sk5 million (€126,000) in bribes.
Bielik recently ignored an appeal by KDH Chairman Pavol Hrušovský to give up his functions in the KDH, saying he is "not guilty" in the bribery affair. Bielik said he would resign only if his Bratislava branch colleagues voted in favour of it.

INTERNAL pressure is growing within the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) for Pavol Bielik to resign. Chairman of the KDH regional branch in Bratislava and mayor of Rača, Bielik is charged with accepting Sk5 million (€126,000) in bribes.

Bielik recently ignored an appeal by KDH Chairman Pavol Hrušovský to give up his functions in the KDH, saying he is "not guilty" in the bribery affair. Bielik said he would resign only if his Bratislava branch colleagues voted in favour of it.

To the displeasure of many KDH leaders, Bielik's colleagues did not propose his resignation at a recent November 10 regional council meeting.

KDH Chairman Hrušovský said that Bielik's attitude disappointed him. "I'm very dissatisfied and sorry about this. Bielik has lost my trust," he said November 11.

External observers and KDH members agree that Bielik's attitude could damage the image of the KDH, which has cast itself as a political party tough on crime and corruption.

For the most part, the party has lived up to its 2004 national election promises to fight crime and strengthen the country's laws.

"I recommended that Bielik resign at the [November 10 regional council] meeting. He is damaging the KDH's image and is not helping his own either," Pavol Minárik, the party's deputy chairman, told The Slovak Spectator November 15.

Some members of the KDH regional council say that they understand why Bielik would not want to give up his position.

KDH MP Mária Demeterová said on the one hand she understood Hrušovský's appeal for Bielik's resignation, but on the other, she also respected the presumption of innocence.

However, Deputy Chairman Minárik said that he disagrees with the view adopted by several Bratislava KDH council members.

"Their position - that by resigning [Bielik] admits his guilt - is misleading and false," said Minárik.

He admitted that it was within the realm of possibility that KDH party leaders would try to convince regional council members to rethink their stand against Bielik's resignation.

"We want to talk to the members of the council in the coming weeks and see if they change their opinion on this. The next regional council meeting will be held in early December. Maybe by then Bielik himself will have changed his mind," Minárik told The Slovak Spectator.

On November 15 the chairmen of seven regional KDH councils approved a common statement supporting Hrušovský's appeal, calling on Bielik to give up his political positions.

The chairmen of the regional KDH councils in Trnava, Banská Bystrica, Trenčín, Žilina, Košice, and Prešov "express their full support to chairman Pavol Hrušovský in the case of the chairman of the Bratislava regional council, Pavol Bielik," reads a statement published November 15.

"We are disappointed with the attitude of our party peer who, by refusing to give up his post of the chairman of the regional council, is damaging the [image of the] whole party," the statement continues.

"We therefore appeal to him to give up all of his posts in the KDH.

"We consider the steps taken by Bielik so far to be his personal and political failure. He undermines KDH policy and the basic principles of this policy with his behaviour."

Bielik was not available to comment on the latest developments.

However, several observers offered their analyses.

Ján Hrubala, lawyer, who leads the cabinet's anti-corruption unit, told the SITA news agency November 11 that "people who are in public posts suspected of committing serious crimes should give up those posts".

"Charges were already filed [against Bielik], and it is a serious issue," said Hrubala.

The state's attorney's office filed the charges in early November. A special court in Banská Bystrica will hear the case.

According to the attorney's office, Bielik demanded the bribe as a commission from a company called Invest through a man the court named Jaro-slav S.

In return for the money, Bielik promised to deliver the approval of municipal MPs in Rača to reconstruct a building and construct two new ones in Rača.

Bielik is also accused of unauthorised allocation of Sk750,000 (€18,750) for various projects.

During the investigation, wiretapping records that should have served as evidence against Bielik were lost in what Interior Minister Vladimír Palko called a "technical failure" in the Interior Ministry's archival system.

KDH Deputy Chairman Palko had a tough time convincing the public and critics that the loss was, in fact, a technical failure and not an effort on his part to help a KDH party peer.

A KDH spokesman, Branislav Jáger, said that the party would no longer comment on the case. "Our chairman has said everything there is to say to this theme," Jáger said.

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