Polish magazine says central bank chief discussed removal of a minister

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 14, 2014 6:31 PM

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish magazine said on Saturday it had a recording of a private conversation in which the central bank chief told a minister that the bank would be willing to help rescue the government from economic troubles on condition the finance minister was removed.

The weekly Wprost news magazine said it had a recording of a meeting in a Warsaw restaurant last July between central bank governor Marek Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz. It did not say who recorded their conversation, or how it had obtained the recording.

According to extracts of the audio recording posted on the Internet by the magazine, which have been heard by Reuters reporters and were also emailed to Reuters by Wprost in transcript form, the minister sets out a scenario in which the government could not meet its financial commitments and faced election defeat, and refers in vague terms to monetary policy action carried out elsewhere in Europe - an apparent reference to central bank stimulus.

"Is that precisely the moment for launching this sort of solution, or not?" Sienkiewicz asks Belka.

Belka replies, according to the transcript: "My condition would be the removal of the finance minister."

The finance minister at the time, Jacek Rostowski, was removed last November as part of a cabinet reshuffle.

Repeated calls by Reuters to the mobile telephone number of a central bank spokesman and the interior ministry's press office went unanswered. The government's press office did not pick up calls seeking comment.

It is unclear if Rostowki's departure was in any way connected to the exchange between Belka and Sienkiewicz. Reuters was not immediately able to reach him for comment on Saturday.

Tusk said at the time the changes were to inject new energy into the government, and Rostowski did not publicly object to leaving.

The magazine published a summary of what it said was the conversation between Belka and Sienkiewicz on its website. It said it would publish more details in its next edition on Monday.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Twitter he would comment on the report on Monday.

"Unfortunate business. I don't underestimate it. I will comment on that publicly on Monday at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) during a news conference," he said.

Poland's central bank is required to be independent of the government, according to a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal in 2000.

It was not possible to establish from the excerpts whether the two men were talking informally or in serious discussion of the outlines of a potential deal. It is also not known if Belka espoused different views in other parts of the transcript.

Jaroslaw Gowin, who quit his post as justice minister in Tusk's government last year and is now in opposition, said in a Twitter post on Saturday in reference to the Wprost report that Belka and Sienkiewicz should be dismissed. He did not give a reason.

Poland suffered a sharp economic slowdown last year. The government was forced to revise its budget after forecasts for budget revenue proved over-optimistic. Since then, the public finances have improved and the economy is back to robust growth.

(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Christian Lowe and Sonya Hepinstall)