Corruption Affair Shakes Political Elite

Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "New Warsaw Express"

In what may become the biggest scandal in the history of post-communist Poland, Gazeta Wyborcza on December 29 alleged that film producer Lew Rywin, claiming to represent a group of “people in power” including Prime Minister Leszek Miller, offered to rig a controversial media bill in the paper’s favour in exchange for $17.5m. The change in the proposed law was to have opened the door for the listed firm Agora, Wyborcza’s owner, to buy private television broadcaster Polsat.
“This group... guarantees you the law and acceptance of the purchase,” Rywin was quoted by Wyborcza from a secret recording made by its editor-in-chief, Adam Michnik. “Their reasoning goes like this... Polsat is worth $350 and they want 5 percent of that.”
According to the paper, Rywin first presented his offer to Wanda Rapaczynski, president of Agora, which owns Wyborcza and a number of local radio stations. Rapaczynski then told Michnik, who proposed to record Rywin as he repeated the offer. In the published transcript of the recording, the producer implied the premier’s involvement without ever naming him directly. When confronted by Michnik, Miller denied any knowledge of the offer or having ever spoken to Rywin about it.

A top-level conflict
At the time, Agora and Wyborcza had been leading a campaign to have the controversial bill changed or rejected outright. Their claim was that its regulations on ownership concentration in the media – which would prevent larger publishers from buying nationwide TV broadcasters and keep companies from owning more than one or two radio stations in a city – would weaken Polish companies’ ability to compete with larger EU-based players. It also claimed the bill would favour state-owned media, which receive public subsidies, allowing them to compete unfairly with commercial broadcasters. Most commentators saw Wyborcza’s protests as motivated at least partly by self-interest, as the proposed moves would have kept its mother company from buying Polsat.

Rising doubts
In what is increasingly muddy water, one of the questions that remain is why none of the people who were aware of Rywin’s offer from the beginning, including the prime minister, reported the matter to law enforcement authorities. After the story was published politicians from all sides raced to call for a full criminal investigation – which has now begun – and for the establishment of a special parliamentary commission to look into the matter.
Wyborcza explained its six-month delay in publishing the story by saying that it wanted to conduct a “journalistic investigation” to find out who might have been behind the deal proposed by Rywin. However, neither the original article, nor any since then, have given any hint of what the paper has done to uncover the truth. The paper simply stated that its investigation had failed, inducing it to publish what was known about the matter.
“If there’s anything really depressing about this affair, it’s the fact that all the characters in this strange drama are on first-name terms with each other,” wrote the daily Rzeczpospolita’s commentator Maciej Rybinski. “The knowledge that the elite... the representation of the nation... is not composed of MPs and Senators, but rather guys who record and kiss each other, is depressing.”
On Wednesday, Rywin resigned from his post as chairman of Canal+, saying he did not want the controversy to hurt its business, his most decisive comment on the matter since the story was published.
Boria Tarasov

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