Slovak politics gripped by Gorilla file

THE WORD ‘Gorilla’ has, since an eponymous leaked file came to light in late December, become a byword in Slovakia for suspicions of widespread political corruption and domestic spying. Shortly before Christmas a lengthy document emerged via Slovak media outlets that purports to describe an operation conducted by the Slovak Information Service (SIS), the country’s main intelligence agency, under the codename Gorilla, which supposedly collected information about the influence of the Penta financial group on senior Slovak politicians between 2005 and 2006.

(Source: SITA)

THE WORD ‘Gorilla’ has, since an eponymous leaked file came to light in late December, become a byword in Slovakia for suspicions of widespread political corruption and domestic spying. Shortly before Christmas a lengthy document emerged via Slovak media outlets that purports to describe an operation conducted by the Slovak Information Service (SIS), the country’s main intelligence agency, under the codename Gorilla, which supposedly collected information about the influence of the Penta financial group on senior Slovak politicians between 2005 and 2006.

The Office of the General Prosecutor on January 2 created a special team to look into the Gorilla file, and several politicians have called for a thorough investigation of the allegations contained in it. The document appeared on the internet and was e-mailed to several media outlets just weeks before parliamentary elections, which are due to take place in Slovakia on March 10.

Citing the contents of the file, Economy Minister Juraj Miškov has requested that Prime Minister Iveta Radičová sack the head of the National Property Fund (FNM), Anna Bubeníková, a nominee of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ). The Gorilla file indicates that she allegedly served as a go-between for Jaroslav Haščák, co-owner of the Penta financial group, with the FNM, where she also worked in 2005, the Sme daily reported. Miškov asserts that the Gorilla file contains so-far unconfirmed but very serious claims.

The Office for the Fight Against Corruption and the Office for the Fight Against Organised Crime, both of which are units within the police force, and the section for control and inspection at the Interior Ministry are all dealing the case, according to Police Presidium spokesman Michal Slivka.

The authenticity of the files has not yet been confirmed. Penta has dismissed the published material as untrue, while the SIS has also cast doubt on the credibility of the file, which actually emerged for the first time more than two years ago. Tom Nicholson, a former editor-in-chief of The Slovak Spectator, and more recently an investigative journalist at Sme and the Trend weekly, said that he had obtained the file and then handed it to police in 2009, after which it was “investigated and dismissed within a month”.

However, Nicholson said that the material, which he believes is genuine (see box), is very important for understanding the state of Slovakia.

“Political scientists have a useful phrase to describe where Slovakia is at the moment: state capture,” Nicholson said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. “It refers to a situation where non-political actors, such as financial groups like Penta and J&T, have gained access to levers of power that allow them to dictate legislation and major governmental decisions such as privatisation or large-scale public procurement.”

In response to news that the Police Presidium and the General Prosecutor's Office had not reached agreement on how to manage the investigation of Gorilla, the chairman of parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) MP Radoslav Procházka, said he intends to summon a special session of the committee on January 23. Procházka plans to invite Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic and the acting general prosecutor, Ladislav Tichý – or perhaps, ultimately, his deputy, former general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka – to discuss what he called procedural aspects of the investigation into the Gorilla file.

Procházka said that some issues over who had authority to conduct the probe had emerged between the police and the prosecutor’s office and that it would be an unacceptable failure if the investigation were to become mired in bureaucracy, the SITA newswire wrote.

“The practical effect of a meeting of the constitutional affairs committee would depend on cooperation and the interest of my colleagues, but considering the graveness of the situation I assume they will agree,” said Procházka.

Meanwhile, the European Anti-Fraud Office, or OLAF, was approached by the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽ) party on January 5 with a request to look into the Gorilla case.

“We are 100-percent sure that people nominated by corrupt politicians to bodies such as the prosecution, the police or the court system would [like to] brush this information under the carpet; or that their inactivity could mean that the case is left to gather dust,” said OĽ deputy Jozef Viskupič.

What is Gorilla?

The lengthy document comprises transcripts of apparently wiretapped conversations which imply corruption in senior state posts during the second government of Mikuláš Dzurinda, which was in office between 2002 and 2006, in connection with the Penta financial group. It features the name of Jaroslav Haščák, Penta’s co-owner, and purported conversations and connections between him and ruling coalition politicians from the period, including former economy minister Jirko Malchárek, a nominee of the now-defunct New Citizens’ Alliance (ANO), plus some members of the Smer opposition party, Sme wrote.

Haščák, according to the document, discussed with Smer leader Robert Fico “cleaning processes” within the party which removed Fedor Flašík, the husband of current MEP Monika Flašíkova-Beňová – both of whom were, in 2005-2006, key figures in the party – and possible post-election arrangements following the 2006 election, the TASR newswire reported.

In its January 3 issue, Sme quoted Miškov as saying that the party received the Gorilla file before the 2010 general election and reviewed it. Miškov added that party leaders considered filing a criminal motion but that this had already been done by Tom Nicholson. The minister also told Sme that, based on the information contained in the Gorilla file, the party tried to stop the nomination of Bubeníková in 2010 and tabled its objection at a Coalition Council session without naming Gorilla as the source of its misgivings. However, the SDKÚ insisted on having Bubeníková appointed, Miškov said, as reported by Sme.

Smer chairman Robert Fico said on January 3 that he did not want to become embroiled in what he called pre-election intelligence games and therefore would not comment on the Gorilla affair.
Nevertheless, he noted, according to TASR, that Smer, shortly after assuming power in the summer of 2006, halted the privatisation of Bratislava Airport, which would almost certainly have ended up in Penta’s hands.

“We also prohibited health insurers from gaining profits,” said Fico. “Penta has a dominant position there.”

The alleged leaks from wiretaps that are circulating on the internet and have been sent to some media outlets are not true, said Penta spokesman Martin Danko, as reported by TASR on December 21.

“We’ve known for approximately two years that material with this content was circulating among reporters and the Slovak media in various ways,” said Danko, as quoted by TASR. “We feel that whoever drafted this document or decided to use the information in this way ... mixed conspiracy theories with generally-known facts that occurred in that era of Slovakia’s political and economic life.”

Danko added that the aim was to harm either Penta or some political parties. He said the group would seek legal protection from what he called the damage caused to the company.

The history of the investigation

The Office for the Fight against Corruption dealt with the case between November 2010 and July 2011, according to Sme. Subsequently, the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Bratislava took over the case and in September 2011 announced that it had been concluded.

SIS director Karol Mitrík, a nominee of the SDKÚ, blocked the investigation into the alleged Gorilla file, Sme reported on December 28. When checking information in the file, which was allegedly produced by SIS operatives, the police asked Mitrík to permit SIS employees to answer questions about the Gorilla operation. However, Mitrík refused to do so, Sme reported, and the investigation was therefore effectively blocked.

Prime Minister Iveta Radičová said that during the new investigation the current SIS leadership is ready to cooperate.

“The investigative bodies now have a second chance to arrive at a conclusion,” the press department of the Government Office said, as quoted by Sme.

Meanwhile, Ján Rejda, a former head of the special department at the Office for the Fight Against Corruption confirmed to Sme that some information contained in the leaked Gorilla document is correct, stating that he visited a wiretapped flat on Vazovova Street in Bratislava where he met a man connected with Penta. He did not deny that he had given the man, who was a former colleague, information, but he denied receiving money for it. He said he assumed the recent media reports had been published to harm his reputation, Sme wrote.

Nicholson: Document is important

Tom Nicholson, a former editor-in-chief of this newspaper and more recently an investigative journalist at the Sme daily and the Trend weekly, obtained the Gorilla file in 2009 and subsequently handed it to the police. He says that the material it contains is very important for understanding the state of Slovakia.

According to Nicholson, the relevance of the Gorilla file is that it describes a relationship between an oligarch, the politicians with whom he did ‘business’ and a hierarchy of political nominees to state institutions and companies who actually conducted this ‘business’, which he said meant “kickback-fuelled abuse of office”.

“It is described in such detail that it is impossible to doubt it, once you actually read it,” Nicholson told The Slovak Spectator. “And above all, it arose from a court-approved surveillance operation by an official state institution that caught these actors red-handed.”

As to what society can learn from it, Nicholson says people should look not only at the contents of the file, but also at how any serious investigation of it by the police was foiled for six years. He says he had to submit the file twice: first in 2009; then, a year later, following the general election, when the new leadership of the anti-corruption unit (ÚBPK) asked him for it again.

“When I told them that they already had it, with rather shame-faced expressions they told me the file had been inexplicably lost,” Nicholson said. “The [new] investigator on the case was a good and experienced man, but he was up against an entire establishment.”

According to Nicholson, SIS director Karol Mitrík stymied the investigation until the police team was broken up in 2011. “After that, the military prosecutor was able to put it to sleep quietly in September,” he said.

“So what happened? Nothing. No serious investigation, and certainly no serious challenge to the current SIS leadership.”

Regarding the relevance of the file, he continued: “This tells us that the current ‘system’ in Slovakia – by which I mean how power is exercised – is able to protect itself from any ‘Gorillas’ that come along, and by the same token is unable to seriously investigate any threat to itself,” said Nicholson. “The Gorilla file tells us that the state of corruption in Slovakia is worse than even the most pessimistic prognoses foretold, and that the fundamental pillars of democracy in this country, such as the free and conscientious exercise of parliamentary mandates, have been seriously and perhaps irreparably compromised.”

When asked whether he saw any hope that the Gorilla affair would be properly investigated, Nicholson said “no” because “this file not only endangers individuals but also how power is exercised in Slovakia. It’s a huge blow to the integrity of the state itself. So, understandably, no state institution is capable of pursuing the case to its inevitable conclusion. What I expect is that the General Prosecutor’s Office will claim to be seriously investigating until the elections, after which the case will be quietly swept under the carpet.”

Several media outlets received the file in late December as an email attachment which claimed it was an excerpt from a book written by Nicholson. He is indeed working on a book relating to the Gorilla file. Why does he think someone used a reference to his book?

“I don’t know who published the file on the internet, and it certainly has nothing to do with me or the book I have written about it,” said Nicholson. “But the whole thing was done very amateurishly – it was published just before Christmas and just after the death of Václav Havel, when it was most likely to be overtaken by other stories and the general oblivion of the Christmas season. And it had demonstrably nothing to do with me, so whatever effect was intended by using my name was lost.”

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