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Defence Minister fired over wiretapping scandal

Ľubomír Galko, a nominee of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, has been fired as the country’s defence minister. Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová asked President Ivan Gašparovič to dismiss Galko on the heels of a scandal over the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), which operates under the Ministry of Defence, and its interception of the telephone calls of journalists. Announcing Galko’s dismissal on November 23, Radičová and Gašparovič said they did not know who would replace him as defence minister but stated they would meet soon to discuss the issue.

Ľubomír Galko, a nominee of the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, has been fired as the country’s defence minister. Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová asked President Ivan Gašparovič to dismiss Galko on the heels of a scandal over the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), which operates under the Ministry of Defence, and its interception of the telephone calls of journalists. Announcing Galko’s dismissal on November 23, Radičová and Gašparovič said they did not know who would replace him as defence minister but stated they would meet soon to discuss the issue.

In Slovakia military intelligence activities are performed by two organisations operating under the Defense Ministry: the Military Intelligence Service (VSS) and the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), which conducts counterintelligence.

The Pravda and Nový Čas dailies reported on November 21 that reporters at Pravda as well as the head of the TV news channel TA3, Michal Gučík, had been wiretapped by the VOS. Nový Čas reported that it had access to VOS transcripts of intercepted phone conversations dating from as far back as February 2011. The alleged wiretapping was stopped after the fall of the government in October, according to Pravda.

“In the operation of the intelligence service, mainly the military, the main goal is the protection of Slovakia’s security,” Radičová said, according to the TASR newswire, in response to allegations by Nový Čas that her own telephone calls had been intercepted by the VOS. “Any other wiretapping has no justification. That is all I can add to the issue.”

Radičová expressed her disappointment at unfolding events, and said they showed that wiretapping was normal under previous governments too. She said such activity should not be normal.

“In our country control mechanisms are missing and it is high time that we reach an agreement on an initiative for mechanisms [to control the work of the VOS] because it is obvious that they have been doing everything except what was their main goal,” Radičová said, as quoted by TASR.

Galko on November 23 responded that he has no knowledge of the prime minister being monitored in the way the media have reported. He added that he in fact could not imagine it since it requires the approval of a judge and he could not imagine any judge approving such monitoring. However, he did not rule out the possibility that somebody who spoke over the phone with Radičová was monitored.

SaS has been backing its minister, arguing that the wiretaps were performed legally, and were intended to uncover criminal activity. The party also said that Galko’s sacking and other developments in the scandal were actually attacks on the party. As of November 23, however, SaS had not indicated that it would quit the interim government over the scandal and, as SaS-nominated Economy Minister Juraj Miškov confirmed in an interview with the Sme daily, the party is likely to support the state budget.

The editor-in-chief of Pravda, Nora Slišková, wrote in a cover-page editorial that “the Defence Ministry has invented an enemy of the state, the Pravda daily.” She added that it is difficult to imagine that these practices, which she compared to the operation of the communist-era ŠtB secret police, could have taken place without the minister of defence knowing about them. The daily alleges that the phones of three reporters from its domestic politics department – the head of the department Patrícia Poprocká, and reporters Peter Kováč and Vanda Vavrová – were tapped.

Nový Čas also reported that VOS files on Gučík included not only transcripts of phone calls but also information about the subject’s health and private life.

The request to apply information technical devices (ITP) to bug journalists was signed by the head of VOS Pavol Brychta and the wiretapping, which was allegedly intended to monitor the so-called “contact base” of three journalists, was approved by a judge.

Brychta confirmed to the parliamentary committee for the oversight of military intelligence on November 22 that the VOS had been wiretapping the three Pravda reporters and Gučík with the consent of a judge.

Brychta told the committee that the journalists participated in the leaking of sensitive information from the Ministry of Defence, according to Peter Žiga, the Smer MP who chairs the committee. Brychta also said that in the case of Gučík “economic criminal activities” were involved.

Galko later responded on November 21 by claiming that only a few days before the allegations the Ministry of Defence had filed a criminal complaint over suspicions that fraud had occurred during the government’s conclusion of the contract for a mobile communication system, MOKYS, which had cost Slovakia several billion Slovak crowns.

A couple of days after filing the complaint, Slovak newspaper editorial offices received anonymous information about the purchase of military trucks and military emergency vehicles, then “today two periodicals have published stories about alleged illegal wiretapping of journalists by the military counter-intelligence,” said Galko, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

The minister stressed that the military intelligence service was not actually doing the wiretapping. Each tap is performed with the consent of a judge and enacted by the police.

“That is the decisive thing for me,” Galko said, telling “all who think themselves above the law” that what he called political games will have no impact on him.

The next day Galko said he would resign if it turned out that the Ministry of Defence had performed a single illegal wiretap.

“If the investigation shows that even a single one of these wiretaps was carried out without the consent of a judge, I will take personal responsibility and resign,” Galko said, as quoted by SITA.

On November 22, the media was filled with headlines such as Sme’s “Galko wiretapped journalists” or Pravda’s “Galko must leave”. Galko responded that on one hand he understood the emotions and outrage of journalists but “on the other hand if there is suspicion of committing a crime I am personally convinced that there is no difference between a politician, or a minister for that reason, an employee, a businessman, a regular person or a journalist”.

He also suggested that the media will perhaps be surprised by how the case turns out, but that he could not reveal information in advance.

“Neither a minister, a politician, a businessman, a regular citizen, nor a journalist, especially when they knowingly violate the law or repeatedly violate it,” can stand above the law, Galko stated, as quoted by SITA.

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