Polish leaders try to limit damage in new scandal

AP News
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Posted: Jun 16, 2014 7:00 AM

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish government and central bank were in damage-control mode on Monday after a secret recording was published in which two key leaders appeared to be making an improper under-the-table deal.

Polish magazine Wprost on Saturday published the recording in which central bank head Marek Belka told Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz last July that he would help the government get out of financial trouble if it fired the finance minister.

That minister, Jacek Rostowski, was replaced four months later.

The central bank is supposed to be independent from the government and interference either way is prohibited.

During the meeting, which took place in a Warsaw restaurant at Belka's request, the two men discussed how the National Bank of Poland could help the government emerge from its then-weak financial situation in order to increase its chances of winning re-election in 2015. The conversation included references to possible central bank stimulus for the economy.

It wasn't clear who made the recording. However, Belka in effect confirmed the authenticity of the tapes in his reaction to them. He apologized for vulgar language and said that his comments were taken out of context and that he did nothing wrong.

"Through manipulation, these fragments try to present a conversation that concerned the stability of the financial system as a case of the head of the National Bank of Poland exceeding his power, which never happened," the central bank said in a statement.

Political analyst Anna Materska-Sosnowska told The Associated Press that the tapes — many of which still have not been published — would probably not cause the government to fall; but Belka, a former prime minister, has jeopardized the central bank's independence, she said.

She said the case is also disturbing because it reveals the vulnerability of leaders to eavesdropping. As interior minister, Sienkiewicz is in charge of the country's secret services and even he appeared unable to protect himself from being targeted.