IN RESPONSE to a videotape submitted to police on November 9 by New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko, police launched an investigation into suspected deputy bribery by agents of the ruling coalition.
The tape, secretly recorded at ANO headquarters on October 23, reportedly features former ANO deputy Iveta Henzélyová describing how she was approached by an unnamed person and offered money to join the ruling coalition.
Police investigators have already spoken to Rusko, who released the tape one day after parliament rejected the opposition's draft legislation to shorten the government's current election term.
MP Iveta Henzélyová was a devoted supporter of Rusko until October 7, when she left the party to support the ruling coalition as an independent deputy. The departure seemed abrupt; Rusko was best man at Henzélyová's wedding just a few months prior to her departure.
A few days after releasing the tape, Rusko said he knew of another former ANO MP who had been bribed to support the ruling coalition.
"I believe that the group of former ANO MPs left the ANO due to corruption going on in parliament. It's a basic characteristic of this group. When a member of the group recently tells me, 'Give me an offer,' what should I think about this?" Rusko asked a television audience tuned in on November 13.
Rusko said he had told the police all he knew. He refused to reveal the name of the other bribed MP on television, however.
Ľubomír Lintner, the leader of several former ANO members who established a breakaway ANO party that is still part of the ruling coalition, insists that "Rusko has decided to play the game all over again to try and regain the [public] trust he lost" when he was dismissed as economy minister in September, Lintner told The Slovak Spectator November 16.
The videotape of Henzélyová caused a major stir on the Slovak political scene. It is the first piece of evidence provided to back up claims of alleged MP bribery.
The tape, recorded with a hidden camera, also caused outcries. Politicians, especially those from the ruling bloc, said such methods were unworthy of a constitutional official.
The opposition started accusing the ruling coalition of buying deputy support after the ANO left the ruling coalition earlier this year, which resulted in a parliamentary deadlock in mid-September.
On September 21, after more than a week of crisis, the ruling coalition managed to muster sufficient support to open the parliamentary session with 77 MPs presenting themselves.
The ANO withdrew to the opposition after Rusko was dismissed as economy minister following charges of conflicts of interest.
Lintner believes that Rusko's current activities have roots in "our attitude towards him [in the past when the Lintner group asked Rusko to step down as economy minister - ed. note]".
Henzélyová continues to insist that the videotape is manipulated. On the recording, she says that "someone sent by our people" approached her and offered money, reconstruction of her house, and help with unspecified projects.
On the tape, she does not explain why she eventually decided to leave the ANO.
Immediately after the case was publicized, Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda said it was an issue for investigators and that he was not going "to be drawn into these waters", refusing to comment or speculate in any way on the case.
Despite the seriousness of the allegations, the issue was not on the official agenda of the November 15 meeting of the coalition partners. Even so, the action item made its way to the coalition floor.At the November 15 meeting, Lintner brought up the topic, assuring the coalition partners that his group did not contact Henzélyová with the offers suggested on the recording.
"I considered it necessary to assure them that no one from our group sent anyone to Henzélyová," said Lintner.
"I think everyone looks at the case in a sober way, realizing the seriousness of the situation, even though the recording came about through illegal means," said Lintner.
"Nobody underestimates the situation and I am sure that if something of this kind was really happening, the [ruling] parties would act appropriately," Linter told The Slovak Spectator.
The key issue in the case seems to be figuring out who is meant by "our people" on the recording.
"If it is proven who 'our people' are in that instant, and they are, in fact, from the ruling coalition, we must reconsider the future of the ruling coalition," said Béla Bugár, the chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party, a member of the ruling coalition.
The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) considers the situation very serious as well, KDH Chairman Pavol Hrušovský confirmed. He insisted, however, that the whole parliament cannot be blamed for a "personal failure of one or two MPs".
In general, however, the coalition parties agree that the results of the investigation must be available before any of the partners makes any decision regarding the matter.
"I reject collective guilt and want to stand up for all decent lawmakers," Hrušovský said in response to a previous statement of Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič, who said that if the allegations of deputy bribery are proven, the current parliament "had no moral right to continue".
PM Dzurinda also prefers that investigators, rather than politicians, deal with the case.
"I am not a police officer, prosecutor or judge. Let the respective authorities fulfil their duties," said Dzurinda after the coalition meeting.
21. Nov 2005 at 0:00 | Martina Jurinová