HARDLY a day passes without the media in Slovakia – broadsheet or tabloid, printed or electronic – reporting on statements fished from the latest batch of leaked US diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website in late August. The information and comments that appear in the correspondence between Bratislava and Washington, DC, are rarely a surprise, but they are a reflection of – and, to some in the Slovak media, a justification for – the suspicions that they have voiced over the years that now turn out to have been shared by diplomats and others.
Some of the most eagerly reported cables concerned alleged sponsors of the Smer party and alleged interference by the investment group Penta in the legislative process. Most of the politicians and businesspeople mentioned in the cables have refused to give any detailed response to the dispatches.
“Only a few of these stories [from the cables] can come as a shock to a proper reader of Slovak newspapers,” wrote the Sme daily’s commentator, Konštantín Čikovský, in his column printed alongside some of the revelations from the leaked cables. He added that “the key characters are known, only the details of the cases are unverifiable and unpublishable.”
“Diplomats in these dispatches (which are supposed to remain confidential) can go even further than the media, who also know or sense more than they are allowed to report due to the lack of irrefutable evidence,” another commentator, Peter Morvay, wrote in Sme.
The Slovak media went to considerable lengths to report on the possible links between politicians and the businesspeople alleged to have given financial support to their parties. The Sme daily quoted from a dispatch dated June 9, 2006 – only days shy of that year’s parliamentary election, which resulted in the demise of the centre-right government and Smer party leader Robert Fico’s ascent to prime minister – which mentions names that had been previously associated with Smer. These were primarily businessmen who got rich from their government connections in the 1990s, under the governments of Vladimír Mečiar, including Ivan Kiňo, the director of Slovenská Sporiteľňa under Mečiar; Ján Gabriel, former director of VÚB bank in the 1990s; Vladimir Poór, who privatised Nafta Gbely; Jozef Brhel; and Fedor Flašík, who was reported, however, to have lost influence after falling out with Fico.
“If Fico doesn’t form the next government, his life will be in danger, because the shady money behind him will not be pleased,” the cable quotes a comment allegedly heard by a diplomat from more than one credible source, the embassy wrote.
Fico dismissed the comments and denied that the named men were sponsors of his party, saying that the identities of Smer donors were officially published.
“I cannot prevent subjective feelings that the staff of the US Embassy are sending to their headquarters as reports,” Fico told a press conference. “Half of it is gossip and various nonsense.”
Fico also said that diplomats often use media reports as their source of information, and that “for those subjective feelings we have to thank the Sme daily”.
Another name mentioned in connection with Smer, businessman Juraj Široký, is mentioned in a cable from July 7, 2009. Reporting on the visit of the Chinese president to Slovakia, the cable says Široký is a man with particular influence on the governing of the state. The Chinese delegation was particularly interested in the construction of highways in Slovakia, and the Chinese also offered to build a highway stretch under a PPP arrangement using Chinese capital, material and labour, the cable reads. But the deal fell apart, because “one of the government’s sponsors”, later named as Široký, was upset about possibly losing the contract to supply concrete, a source told the embassy.
Allegations of vote-buying by Penta
Another leaked cable quoted by the Slovak media, dating from April 2005, reports on the alleged buying of MPs’ votes by the investment group Penta during the second government of Mikuláš Dzurinda.
In 2004 the Slovak parliament passed six health-care reform laws, originally aimed at reducing the state’s role in health care, which legalised the franchising of pharmacies. Several independent MPs supported the reform in parliament. The US embassy wrote in its cables that according to a “reliable contact” Penta wanted to use franchising agreements and its ownership of health insurance companies to steer customers to its pharmacies. The contact reported that Penta had paid Sk2 million ($67,000) each for an undisclosed number of independent MPs’ votes to ensure passage of the law.
“We cannot judge the authenticity of the report, but we regard it a combination of nonsense and total ignorance regarding the facts,” Penta spokesperson Martin Danko told The Slovak Spectator. He denied all allegations that Penta had paid for MPs’ votes.
Danko also pointed out what he said were several factual mistakes in the reports, saying that Penta never had any businesses which franchised pharmacies and that Penta did not control three health insurance companies in 2004, but only two.
12. Sep 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani