DOZENS of parliamentary deputies and journalists are having their phone calls intercepted with the consent of the interior minister, according to former construction minister and current Slovak National Party (SNS) MP Igor Štefanov. While some MPs said they had heard rumours about such practices, the Interior Ministry immediately dismissed the accusations. Štefanov himself currently faces a proposal to strip him of his MPs’ immunity from prosecution, so that police can charge him with misconduct in a public office over his involvement in the notoriously non-transparent bulletin-board tender case.
On March 17 Štefanov told a press conference he had convened that, according to “information from well-informed sources”, whom he refused to identify, 40 MPs including himself were having their phones tapped, as were some journalists.
Štefanov did not give the names of the MPs or the journalists, nor did he specify which institution was supposed to be tapping their phones. According to the Interior Ministry, the only institutions that can legally practice eavesdropping in Slovakia are the police and the Slovak Information Service (SIS). Štefanov also alleged that Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic is aware of the eavesdropping, and called on him to resign.
“Minister Lipšic is trying to centralise executive power in one pair of hands,” Štefanov said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “Without any scruples he taps and gathers information about his political opponents, as well as about his coalition partners and puts pressure on everyone who doesn’t agree with him.”
When asked why he did not report to the police what he had described as illegal practices by the ministry, Štefanov said that “such things need to be prepared” and the SNS wants to “avoid bombastic statements of the kind Minister Lipšic used”. He also said the SNS might file a criminal complaint, but the respective bodies could start an investigation as soon as they received information via the media.
Štefanov’s claims about the Interior Ministry came shortly after he learnt that he could lose his parliamentary immunity and face subsequent prosecution for serious crimes, including abuse of the powers of a public official, connected to the infamous bulletin-board tender case, as a result of which the state lost millions of euros. Parliament will vote on whether to strip Štefanov of his immunity when MPs receive a motion from the prosecutor.
Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic announced on March 9 that four people, whom he did not identify but who are believed to include Štefanov’s predecessor as construction minister, Marián Janušek, had been charged with tampering with a public procurement. At the same time, a motion was filed with the duty prosecutor to request that parliament strip a fifth suspect of his immunity from prosecution. This later turned out to be Štefanov. According to Lipšic, the charges, if proved, could result in a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
The Interior Ministry interpreted Štefanov’s accusations as an attempt by the MP to deflect attention, saying that his conduct fitted the Slovak proverb ‘a drowning man snatches even at a straw’.
“Remarkably enough, Mr Štefanov revealed a police-related topic at precisely the moment when the General Prosecutor’s Office is deciding on a proposal to strip him of his immunity,” the ministry stated, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
According to the Interior Ministry, any wire-tapping conducted by the police is based on a proper court order and is constantly controlled.
Štefanov, in turn, accused the interior minister of trying to cover up important topics by making bombastic announcements about the potential prosecution of an ex-minister, saying that Lipšic has learned about “important topics discussed within the SNS leadership”.
Other MPs heard rumours
Some MPs, however, said they had heard that eavesdropping might be taking place. While Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Milan Hort of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Speaker Richard Sulík of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) said they hadn’t heard of this before, Most-Híd deputy chairman Gábor Gál admitted he had heard that some MPs might be being wire-tapped, or might previously have been monitored during the previous government’s term.
“If there are proper court orders for that, then they probably have a reason to eavesdrop,” Gál told the TASR newswire, adding that it would be a problem if the court orders were missing.
Lipšic stated on March 17 that all wire-taps being conducted by Slovak state organisations are authorised by a judge, in accordance with the law. He added that he does not know, and does not want know, the identities of any individuals currently being monitored. “My message to Mr Štefanov is that times have changed,” Lipšic said, as quoted by SITA.
Politicians from the opposition Smer party also said they had heard of some tapping practices before but did not have any confirmed information that they could publish.
“This is such a serious thing that despite the fact that we hear this information, and despite the fact that we know about a source at the Regional Court in Nitra, we cannot come up with such accusations and claims,” Smer’s leader Robert Fico said, as quoted by TASR.