Smer party founder fears for his safety

COMPARED to his fiery discourse over recent laws adopted by the Hungarian Parliament, Prime Minister Robert Fico has remained decidedly tight-lipped about suspicions related to the funding of his Smer party. These emerged after a founding member of the party, Bohumil Hanzel, spoke out in May.

COMPARED to his fiery discourse over recent laws adopted by the Hungarian Parliament, Prime Minister Robert Fico has remained decidedly tight-lipped about suspicions related to the funding of his Smer party. These emerged after a founding member of the party, Bohumil Hanzel, spoke out in May.

In interviews with the Slovak media, Hanzel suggested that Smer offered state positions and seats in parliament in return for cash to finance its 2002 election campaign. Smer leader Fico has said very little about the allegations other than to label Hanzel’s words “nonsense and lies”.

Most recently, the prime minister said that he had no intention of participating in what he called a “cabaret” arranged by Hanzel.

But it seems Hanzel considers the matter rather more serious than a cabaret. On June 1 he deposited with the Swedish Embassy a sealed envelope containing, he said, documents related to what he called the “corruption background” of Smer. He showed the envelope to journalists without specifying its exact contents. Hanzel then asked Swedish Ambassador Mikael Westerlind to pass the documents to Slovak Prosecutor General Dobroslav Trnka in the event that “something happens to me”.

At a subsequent press conference Fico, refusing to call Hanzel by his real name and instead referring to him as Mr XY, said that he had phoned Trnka to ask him whether Hanzel had delivered anything to the prosecution. The prosecutor, Fico said, confirmed that he had not received anything, the SITA newswire reported.

“I can insert the Sme and Nový Čas dailies into an envelope and hand it in under the claim that if something happens to me then here you have the Sme and Nový Čas dailies and read them and draw conclusions,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA.

However, Ambassador Westerlind confirmed to The Slovak Spectator that he had met Hanzel.

“Yesterday, on his request, I received Bohumil Hanzel, who wanted to inform me about the background of the recent publicity in the matter, and about his misgivings that the issue might affect his personal safety,” Westerlind told The Slovak Spectator. “As Mr Hanzel is a Swedish citizen, I certainly did not hesitate to receive him in such a situation. During our conversation, Mr Hanzel handed over a sealed envelope, said to contain some ‘evidence’ in the matter.”

Westerlind said that he promised Hanzel to keep the envelope for a while without any intention of opening it, and that he would return it later at Hanzel’s request.

“I did not promise any further action in regard to the envelope,” Westerlind said. “I made it quite clear to Mr Hanzel that my dealing with the matter exclusively relates to the consular aspect, i.e. the consular protection of a Swedish citizen, adding that the room to manoeuvre of the embassy is rather restricted in a case concerning a subject who also carries the citizenship of this country.”

Westerlind also said that “it goes without saying that I do not intend to engage or take sides in the substantive issue at stake” and that Hanzel fully understood his position.

In an interview with the Sme daily earlier this year Hanzel claimed that secret deals were signed by Smer with off-the-books sponsors ahead of the 2002 general election to guarantee these individuals state posts and other benefits in return for multi-million crown gifts.

Hanzel, who founded Smer with Fico in 1999, said that the prime minister also boasted of how he himself had reeled in cash for the party’s first national election campaign. Hanzel claimed the party spent Sk284 million on its aggressive 2002 campaign, far in excess of the Sk10.6 million Smer reported in its official accounting, according to Sme.

Hanzel, calling himself “a huge pedant”, said he kept detailed records of each meeting and conversation with Fico and that he is ready to back up his claims in front of a judge.

Shortly after Hanzel spoke out, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) publicly rejected post-election cooperation with Smer, further narrowing Fico’s choice of possible coalition partners after the general election.

“The published information and documents suggest illegal proceedings within Smer and place doubt on the legitimacy of democratic institutions,” said KDH leader Ján Figeľ at a press conference.

Referring to the allegations about Smer party financing, political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator that the consequences will be far-reaching, even if they do not have such a big impact on the party before the election.

In June Fico said that it is known that Hanzel organises a cabaret each year for the employees of his firm and that as part of the last cabaret he undressed completely, SITA wrote. Fico said that this suggests what kind of person Hanzel is, repeating that Smer party financing is in line with the rules.

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