Russia linked to 2014 wiretapping scandal in Poland
Poland Russia linked to 2014 wiretapping scandal in Poland
Reports say man convicted of organising recordings owed millions to Russian coal firm
Concerns are growing in Poland about potential Russian involvement in a dramatic wiretapping scandal that rocked Polish politics in 2014, after reports emerged that the businessman convicted of organising the operation owed tens of millions of dollars to a Russian coal bus iness.
Marek Falenta, a Polish businessman with interests in the coal industry, was convicted in 2016 of organising the operation, which involved recording 700 hours of conversations over the course of more than 80 meetings between senior politicians and officials at two Warsaw restaurants.
The people recorded included the interior minister, the finance minister, the foreign minister and the transport minister, all from Polandâs pro-European Civic Platform party, and the heads of the national bank, the supreme audit office, the government protection bureau and the central anti-corruption bureau. Two waiters were also convicted for their part in the affair.
The publication of the edited transcripts by Wprost, a Polish weekly, in June 2014 caused a sensation after it emerged that RadosÅaw Sikorski, the then foreign minister, had described Polish defence ties with the US as âworthlessâ, and the head of the national bank had appeared to suggest to the interio r minister that Jan-Vincent Rostowski, the then finance minister, be removed in exchange for the bankâs support for government policy.
The revelation of Falentaâs debts raises the prospect of Russian involvement in a scandal that observers say was a major factor in the collapse of public support for Civic Platform, ahead of elections in 2015 and the subsequent coming to power of Polandâs ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).
Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, a Civic Platform MP, said: âWhen the operation happened in 2014, we werenât conscious of the extent to which Russia was prepared to interfere in other countriesâ elections â" in the United States, in Brexit, in Catalonia, in Germany.
âBut now that we know what happened in those countries, we need a full explanation of what happened in Poland.â
There have long been questions over how Falenta and the waiters managed to carry out such a sophisticated and long-running wiretapping operation without any external help.
The majority of the recordings took place in a private dining room at Sowa i Przyjaciele, which was established in 2012.
In 2016, it emerged that the restaurant in Warsaw had been established by two business associates of Robert Szustkowski, a Polish businessman and property developer who has lived in Russia. At the time of the revelations, Szustkowski was serving as the acting ambassador at the Gambiaâs embassy in Russia.
Ewa DomÅ¼aÅa, a former business partner of Szustkowski, told the Guardian that Szustkowski had worked in businesses associated with Andrei Skoch, a Russian oligarch, for decades.
Skoch, now a member of the Russian parliament, was included in April on a US treasury sanctions list âfor longstanding ties to Russian organised criminal groups, including time spent leading one such enterpriseâ.
The Polish weekly Polityka alleged last week that in late 2013 or early 2014, Falenta travelled to Kemerovo in Russia to meet representatives of Kuzbasskaya Toplivnaya, a Russian coal company.
According to the report, the deal is understood to have left Falenta about $20m (Â£15m) in debt to the company. Intelligence sources cited by Polityka claim the meeting was facilitated by Szustkowski.
In a statement published by Wirtualna Polska, a Polish news website, Szustkowski denied cooperating or working with Falenta, although he did not deny having had contact with him. He also strongly denied connections with any foreign intelligence agencies or organised crime groups, and any connection with the wiretapping operation.
Questions have been raised about the extent to which political pressure from figures associated with PiS, a major beneficiary of the operation, may have hampered official investigations into potential Russian involvement. Neither government nor law enforcement officials have commented on the revelations.
A former intelligence officer who was serving in a sen ior role at the time of the scandal said: âThe connections to Russia were numerous and obvious at the time, but they were never properly investigated.
âThe Polish intelligence services are, unfortunately, heavily politicised, and already in 2014, many senior officials knew which way the wind was blowing. It simply wasnât â" and still isnât â" in anyoneâs interest to dig into whether the incoming administration was elected with Russian assistance.â
SÅawomir Sierakowski of the left-leaning thinktank Krytyka Polityczna said: âThe operation happened at the peak of Polish influence in the European Union, when Poland was a strong advocate for Ukraine after the Maidan protests.
âThe Russians have been infiltrating Polish politics and trying to control the region for centuries â" why would they stop now?âTopics
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