SPY boss Karol Mitrík is now free to talk about – and possibly to shed more light on – Operation Gorilla, the name of an investigation that his agency, the Slovak Information Service (SIS), allegedly carried out into suspected high-level corruption in 2005-6. The so-called Gorilla file, an as-yet unverified document which purports to contain transcripts of conversations between ministers, officials and businesspeople covertly recorded as part of that operation, was leaked onto the internet in December and has dominated political debate in the lead up to the March 10 general election. On January 25, President Ivan Gašparovič released SIS head Mitrík from his oath of secrecy so that he can be interviewed by a special team of investigators looking into the file.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Iveta Radičová said that all the Gorilla-related questions she had put to Mitrík in a letter had been answered. His responses are classified, so Radičová refused to discuss them with the media or the public, according to the Government Office’s press department. She had inquired about when the SIS first came to suspect that organised criminal activity was taking place, when it started eavesdropping on the conversations of ministers and others, and whether the covert recording was properly authorised by a judge. Radičová also wanted to know whether the SIS had provided prosecutors or the police information about the criminal activities it had allegedly uncovered, the SITA newswire reported.
Interior Minister Daniel Lipšic, who on January 19 confirmed – citing documents from the archive of the prime minister – that an intelligence operation code-named Gorilla did exist and was carried out legally by the SIS, said he believed that new written evidence pertaining to Gorilla would soon emerge.
“The important thing is that the hands of the police are free and that the investigation is being supervised by the Office of the Special Prosecutor, because in the past there were prosecution bodies which halted a criminal prosecution [in the case],” said Lipšic in an interview with the Sme daily on January 26, adding that it is important as well that there is wide public awareness of the case.
The file, whose provenance has not been proved and which has not been published in full by any major media outlet but is available on the internet, raises suspicions about the influence of the Penta financial group on Slovak politics during the second Dzurinda government. The file purports to describe meetings between state officials and Penta managers at a Bratislava apartment on Vazovova Street.
The government of Iveta Radičová has already sacked Anna Bubeníková, a nominee of Radičová’s own Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), from her top job at the National Property Fund (FNM), Slovakia’s privatisation agency, based on suggestions in the file that she had served as a go-between for Jaroslav Haščák, co-owner of Penta, and the FNM, where she also worked in 2005.
Meanwhile, Sme reported on January 24 that Bubeníková denied meeting Penta representatives at the apartment, as described in the Gorilla file, or at any other non-public place.
“I have never in my life been at the alleged conspiracy apartment,” Bubeníková said, as quoted by Sme.
Radičová said on January 24, as reported by SITA, that she hopes the investigations will finally have some effect and that she does not want claims to persist that “it was not possible; someone did not want to act”.
When asked whether he had done enough as prime minister after receiving intelligence reports about suspected corruption as reflected in the alleged Gorilla file, Mikuláš Dzurinda said that a prime minister must not influence independent institutions like the police. Appearing on Slovak Television (STV) on January 22, Dzurinda, who is the leader of the SDKÚ, said that if the intelligence service finds information suggesting a crime has been committed that is of relevance to the police, that neither the interior minister nor the prime minister can prevent the police from investigating.
Sme, in its interview with Lipšic, asked who he thinks is responsible for the original failure to have the Gorilla file, which has been handed to police by journalists at least twice in the last five years, properly investigated. The interior minister responded that “in January 2010 the Office for the Fight Against Corruption was actively checking this file and arrived at the conclusion that there was no reason to start a criminal prosecution. They also checked provisions that were allegedly supposed to go to Bubeníková through the firm Elementa. They arrived at the conclusion that no 200-million [Slovak crown; about €6.6 million] provision went there. 200 million perhaps not, but another relatively high sum went there, and then in the firm which is the 100-percent owner of Elementa, there is a strange profit of Sk80 million from 2007 and 2008. The firm, which neither before nor since has reported any profit, involves the husband of Mrs Bubeníková.”
However, Lipšic also told the daily that he would not speculate about whether any failure to investigate was intentional or whether for long years there was “a tacit agreement in high politics to not look into big corruption cases linking high-ranking politicians and financiers”.
“This case is far from being the sole case of large-scale corruption in politics,” Lipšic told Sme. “If some politicians are silent now they know why”.
Penta denies Gorilla claims
“We publicly declare that in the listed transactions Slovakia has not been stripped of a single euro or a single crown,” Penta stated in response to the ongoing debate over the Gorilla file and suggestions that the financial group had pursued its interests through corrupt means.
Penta said on January 24 that of the 12 transactions described in the file it had investment interests in only six of them. In a statement given by spokesman Martin Danko to SITA, Penta also said that in all the successful privatisation tenders in which the financial group had participated, Penta succeeded by submitting the best price or offering the most advantageous conditions.
In response to some claims by Lipšic, Penta called on the interior minister to be specific about transactions and privatisations in which the company succeeded without submitting the best offer “or in Lipšic’s words ‘extraordinarily unfavourable offer[s] by which it stripped Slovakia of hundreds of millions of crowns’,” the financial group wrote.
Lipšic had previously stated that “there is a serious suspicion that many decisions in privatisations or public tenders were not influenced by the interests of the public or society, but by specific financial groups, as though part of the political and economic elite participated in large-scale corruption,” SITA wrote.
Background: the file itself
The lengthy document comprises transcripts of apparently covertly recorded conversations which imply corrupt dealings between senior state officials and the Penta financial group during the second Dzurinda government. It features the name of Haščák, Penta’s co-owner, and purported conversations and connections between him and ruling coalition politicians from the period, including then-economy minister Jirko Malchárek, a nominee of the now-defunct Alliance of a New Citizen (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 his party which removed Fedor Flašík, the husband of current MEP Monika Flašíková-Beňová – both of whom were, in 2005-2006, key figures in Smer – and possible post-election arrangements following the 2006 election, the TASR newswire reported.
“The file must be responsibly investigated,” Zuzana Wienk, director of political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance, told The Slovak Spectator in an earlier interview. “It includes very serious claims, which thanks to [the file’s] publication have already affected and influenced people’s opinions.”
According to Wienk, the information available suggests that the prosecution bodies and the intelligence service failed. She said that information reported in the media shows that they instead resisted attempts to deal with the revelations.