Polish government hit by resignations over eavesdropping scandal

Polish government hit by resignations over eavesdropping scandal
Polish Prime Mister Ewa Kopacz
PHOTO: Reuters

WARSAW - Three Polish government ministers and the speaker of parliament resigned Wednesday over a high profile eavesdropping scandal just four months ahead of a general election which polls show could usher the conservative opposition into power.

Centrist Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz announced that Parliamentary Speaker Radoslaw Sikorski and the ministers of the treasury, health and sports had resigned as her unpopular government struggles to hold onto power.

Polish media on Tuesday was awash with news of the publication on the Internet of some 2,500 pages of leaked transcripts from a government eavesdropping scandal that rocked Poland in June last year.

The transcripts are evidence in an ongoing investigation by Polish justice authorities.

Last June, the Polish news magazine Wprost released a secret recording of the central bank chief purportedly cutting a deal with the then interior minister to support the government's economic policy if the finance minister quit.

The magazine later released transcripts of other wiretapped conversations, including one in which then foreign minister Sikorski allegedly calls Poland's US ties "bullshit" and blasts British Prime Minister David Cameron as "incompetent on EU affairs".

The private exchanges allegedly took place at a number of swish Warsaw restaurants over a period of several months.

The bugging affair resulted in charges against several people, including a restaurant manager and waiters - prompting some to label the affair "Waitergate" on social media.

Zbigniew Stonoga, the blogger responsible for the leaked files, was questioned by police on Tuesday. He claims to have found photocopies of the transcripts on a Chinese Internet server.

Stonoga was released from custody after being charged with publishing the documents regarded as evidence in an ongoing investigation. If found guilty, he could be spend up to two years behind bars.

Campaign trail

The popularity of Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz's centrist Civic Platform (PO) government is waning.

The party scored a second term in office with a November 2011 landslide, but slower economic growth and persistent unemployment have since taken a toll on public support.

Meanwhile, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) opposition party has gained ground in opinion polls, with some indicating it could win the autumn general election.

PiS candidate Andrzej Duda scored a surprise victory in last month's presidential election, edging out PO ally President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Sikorski said Wednesday he decided to quit as speaker - a position second only to the president - for the good of the PO ahead of voting day.

"This is the only party capable of allowing Poland to maintain the standing it has gained over the last few years," he told reporters, adding that he would run for parliament again come the fall.

Kopacz made it clear Wednesday that she intended to purge her government of anyone tainted by the eavesdropping affair.

"So long as I'm prime minister, I will not allow anyone to use the recordings during the (election) campaign," she told reporters.

The one-time emergency room physician and former health minister also said she wanted Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet to step down.

His staff were responsible for the files that were leaked onto the Internet.

"The only result of the long investigation that has been going on for over a year is this huge leak of files," said the 58-year-old.

Polish media have slammed the state, prosecutor general and special services for being too "weak" to prevent the leaks which include the personal information of over 40 intelligence officials.

Restaurant employees who secretly recorded the conversations of the senior Polish politicians alleged they acted on behalf of a businessman.

The person in question has denied the allegations and the investigation into the affair is ongoing.

Kopacz on Wednesday went so far as to apologise to PO voters angered by the backroom deals that have emerged in the eavesdropping affair.

"On behalf of the Civic Platform, I ask your forgiveness," she said.

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