At the end of December, transcriptions of alleged conversations between financial group Penta, public officials and politicians from both benches were anonymously leaked on the internet concerning the affair codenamed Gorilla, which points to corrupt ties, cronyism and parallel financing of political parties.
The case is complex and could involve many top figures across the whole political spectrum, revealing how corruption pumps through the veins of Slovak politics. The transcripts are from recordings made by the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) between 2005-2006 in a flat in Bratislava and the case was initiated after it was discovered that politicians were meeting in the flat with co-owner of Penta financial group, Jaroslav Hascak.
Among other things, the narrated transcriptions written in the third person point to corrupt practices and vote-buying involving the SDKU and KDH parties when they held power during 2002-2006. The reports also point to parallel financing of political parties in Slovakia, with specific reference to Hungarian coalition party SMK and Robert Fico’s Smer-SD party, which is suspected of having received election campaign funding from Penta.
According to information contained in the 44,000 word transcripts (you can view them in Slovak online here), the Penta group was involved in influencing politicians in 2005-2006, most notably then economy minister from the now disbanded ANO party, Jirko Malcharek.
Everyone mentioned in the Gorilla transcripts is either staying quiet or denying the authenticity of the texts, with current deputy attorney general Dobroslav Trnka being one of the first to doubt them. Both Penta and former economy minister Malcharek referred to the transcripts as nonsense.
The main argument they all use is that no recordings exist of the transcripts, at least not known, because by law all tapped conversations must be destroyed if not subsequently used as evidence in some case, and so even if they did exist, they would be illegal.
Head of the Smer-SD party, Robert Fico, is playing it safe, refusing to comment on, deny or confirm the content of the transcripts, which claim he met with Hascak from Penta in the flat in the run-up to the 2006 elections, which Fico and his party then went on to win. If the transcripts are authentic, Fico’s assistant Frantisek Hatar also had several meetings with Hascak.
Fico is shying away from the Gorilla claims, saying yesterday that he and his party refused to get caught up in some childish pre-election intelligence games. As a counter-argument to the claim that Penta had helped finance his 2006 election campaign, Fico contested that his government had cancelled the privatisation of Bratislava Airport and halted health insurers from making profit, which both went against the interests of the Penta group.
Shortly after the leak, journalist Tom Nicholson revealed that he had been working on the Gorilla case for the past two years, after being contacted by the scared SIS officer whose nearby flat had been used to record the conversations. The officer was threatened, thrown out of the SIS and kept under house arrest for six months also with possible charges of treason.
Nicholson approached some media with the story but they all steered clear of it also as there was no concrete evidence. He then presented the information as evidence to the police, but the dossier was somehow lost and nothing was ever done about it. Nicholson also claims that SIS officers offered him bribes of up to approx. EUR 300,000 to drop his investigation.
Speaking at a public gathering, Nicholson summed up by saying in a country where the police, the Attorney General’s office and judges are so politicised and grossly corrupt, we cannot expect anyone to go to jail over it, when no top politician has been jailed even after 19 years (of independent Slovakia). He therefore sees the biggest benefit of Gorilla as possibly giving the Slovak people a better insight into how the country works, and so it is up to them to demand change.
Nicholson has written a book on the subject, which was due for release early this year, but his publisher backed off after the case exploded in December as it was afraid of it being misused in the March 2012 pre-election campaign.
Although the so-called Gorilla transcripts were subjected to investigation twice already, nothing came out of it, with the case being closed in September 2011. The secret service SIS itself has also been appropriately inactive as the case has consistently been swept under the carpet, with current SIS head, SDKU nominee Karol Mitrik, also refusing to collaborate with the police on it.
For any of the evidence to be admissible, denied or confirmed, certain secret service officers would have to be waived of their official secrets oath, which is the only real way to deal with this can of worms. Even under the former government President Gasparovic stood in the way of the Gorilla case being exposed, as he refused to let former SIS head Jozef Magala speak out about it.
At the end of the day, the Gorilla transcripts merely expose once again what many in Slovakia have long suspected or known. That corruption is like a widespread cancer in politics and business here. Even the transcripts themselves have been circling for years among politicians as control over the SIS secret service changed hands.
Given the feeble track record in Slovakia of bringing corruption to justice, combined with the legal implications that Gorilla has for so many ‘influential’ people, we shouldn’t hold our breath for an outcome.
A special team has been set up at the Attorney General’s Office, which must firstly push to have the involved officers unburdened of their oath of secrecy. On the side of the police, it is being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Office and the Organised Crime Office.
This alone could by cause for a battle that looks set to take place between the Ministry of Interior and the Attorney General’s Office (which still has no duly elected Attorney General thanks to the President) as to which body will get its hands on the investigation, or rather, control the investigation of the case