On the day of the third Gorilla rally in Bratislava, I met PM Iveta Radičová at the Government Office. I had just read an interview she had given to the Sme daily (http://www.sme.sk/c/6253753/radicova-gorila-nie-je-pravdiva-cela.html) the day before, in which she described the Gorilla file as “mostly fiction and secret service games,” and as a document that people “should not believe in its entirety – of that I’m certain.” As the hairs on my neck rose, I scanned the interview in vain for a reason the file was suddenly not to be trusted. “I find part of it completely unbelievable, but it’s just a feeling,” she said at one point. Great – so no reason, just intuition. The only thing remotely like an explanation was this – Radičová believed Gorilla was nonsense “on the basis of what I know today.” So what was this mysterious knowledge?
One of the many challenges of reporting on the Gorilla file, at least since its publication on the Internet last Christmas, has been deciding how much to say about it. Whether to name names; whether to report the contents of conversations people might otherwise rather have kept private. How many toes to step on, and how hard. On most occasions, I’ve put defending the authenticity of the file above other concerns (Penta lawyers, take note: never above the rights of your clients). It is, after all, one of the most important documents ever to have reached the public domain, and I believe that whatever is done – or not done – to clean up corruption in this country in the next few years, will largely depend on whether people believe that the Gorilla conversations really took place.
So back to the Office of Government, where PM Radičová and I were sitting chummily on a couch on February 10. I asked her what she had meant by claiming Gorila was part fiction. She said that she had not meant to imply that the SIS had invented part of the file. Instead, she claimed, soon after then-PM Mikuláš Dzurinda had received information from SIS on the operation (two documents, titled “on the links between the Penta financial group and Slovenské elektrárne and the electricity sector,” and “the upcoming privatization of energy distribution companies,” were sent to the prime minister and the interior minister on February 15, 2006, according to the Gorilla file), members of the financial group also learned that the flat on Vazovová Street in Bratislava was bugged. But rather than pack their bags and flee the country, Radičová suggested, the group decided to return to the flat and start faking conversations, in an attempt to cast doubt on the veracity of the file as a whole.
We talked of other things, but that was the gist of why the PM had said for Sme she didn’t trust Gorilla in its entirety. Up until February 15, yes – and that includes 7 transcripts of alleged meetings between Haščák, Malchárek and Bubeniková, containing the bulk of the corruption structure we know as Gorilla. But after that date, the PM said, we had to regard the Gorilla conversations as potentially staged.
And that was all. We never mentioned Robert Fico’s name, or talked about the implications of Radičová’s information. One of her staff very kindly printed for me the speech I was due to give in 30 minutes on Námestie SNP, which was still on a USB key in my pocket. As police in riot gear marched through the hallways, the prime minister implored me not to attend the rally, which she feared would attract more of the hooligans who had thrown paving stones at security forces the week before. And on that note we parted.
So was she right about the file? The most likely answer is that we’ll never know. “It’s entirely possible, but no one can see into their heads and know what they were thinking,” said a former senior SIS officer from the Ladislav Pittner (2004 to 2006) era.
The Gorilla transcripts themselves would seem to support Radičová’s version. At a meeting that allegedly took place between Anna Bubeniková and Jaroslav Haščák on May 5, 2006, Haščák is supposed to have claimed that “during the week of February 15, 2006, the SIS began to follow him... Haščák claimed to have met during this period with SDKÚ treasurer Igor Kucej. Kucej told him that Mikuláš Dzurinda had warned him that if he wanted to meet with Penta, he should exercise more caution... Bubeniková said that exactly around this time, Ivan Mikloš started avoiding her.”
If Radičová was right, and the post-February 2006 Gorilla transcripts were compromised, how should we now look at the file? For starters, this may explain why the Elementa company, through which a 200 million crown kickback was supposed to have been delivered to Anna Bubeniková, never apparently owned any real estate in Medzilaborce, as the last (July 9) transcript claimed. It’s also worth noting that it was after February 15 that one of the most contentious accusations was made (Dzurinda and Hrušovský allegedly splitting at 200 million crown kickback from Siemens).
Moreover, it’s interesting that Robert Fico (once) and his secretary Fero Határ (four times) made their first supposed visits to the Vazovová flat only after Dzurinda learned of the Gorilla operation. This could be a natural development, given the approaching elections and the increasing likelihood of a massive Smer victory. But if we accept that the surveillance operation was blown, it could also be an attempt to lure Fico into a trap, in order to be able to blackmail him after June elections (and remember, one of Jozef Magala’s first decisions as SIS director under the incoming Fico government was to cancel the Gorilla operation on August 4, 2006).
However, this is just a logical extrapolation, not an attempt to absolve Robert Fico or Smer of complicity in Gorilla-style corruption. Even if Fico and Határ had been invited to the flat in order to compromise them, they would have been free to decline. If they were indeed present, they cannot claim to have “nothing to do with it,” as Smer spokesman Erik Tomáš said last week.
For almost a month after my meeting with Radičová, I attempted to verify her claims with people close to the Gorilla file. Some dismissed it as nonsense, doubting that Penta would have returned to the flat under any circumstances if they knew it was bugged (“it makes no sense that they would have pretended to be involved in corruption, knowing that their statements could later be used to prosecute them for acts that never occurred,” said one police investigator). Others argued that Radičová’s theory contained logical flaws: “the information SIS gave to Dzurinda would have been only informative, and would not have revealed that the service was bugging the Vazovová flat,” said a senior SIS source from the Magala era. “Apart from that, there is no way Dzurinda would have told Penta about the operation. Politicians are always suspicious that oligarchs are lying to them about the size of kickbacks from privatization, and the normal procedure would have been to let the surveillance continue, to see what information could be gained, as well as to try and secure compro material on other political parties.”
I also wrestled with the question of whether to make it public. On the one hand, I felt that people deserved an explanation of the prime minister’s claim that Gorilla was at least partly fiction. On the other, anything that seemed to be ameliorating Fico’s presence in the flat would be seized on as playing politics in the lead-up to March 10 elections. In the end, it slipped out of my mouth during an interview for CT24 that was aired March 9. Sometimes, the truth just begs to be told.
It took the Slovak media a few days to notice the interview, and once they did, the Government Office was most displeased. I had revealed the contents of a private conversation with the PM, and “that’s a no-no,” I was told. Perhaps. But with the SIS stonewalling police investigators, and the Gorilla inquest about to be handed to incoming Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, perhaps people who have crucial information about the file should not be casting doubt on it without explaining their reasons. That’s also a no-no.
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I had intended in this space to discuss the state of the investigation that the incoming Fico government inherits from its predecessor – the investigation team, and how much progress they have made. But I’ll leave that for next time, when all of the relevant actors have had a chance to respond to my questions. On a final note, it’s surely worth more than a raised eyebrow that secret service director Karol Mitrik has not yet allowed Peter Mravec to testify in the case (Mravec is the SIS agent who transcribed the Gorilla file). More than that, the Supreme Court in October last year overturned the decision of former SIS Director Magala to fire Mravec in 2009 (for meeting with me, for allegedly having unsecured documents in his safe, and for having a private mobile phone with him at work). The case was returned to Mitrik, who was supposed to either confirm Mravec’ dismissal or reinstate him as a SIS officer. So far, Mravec has received no decision on his status. To paraphrase Mikuláš Dzurinda: Where there’s no will, there’s just no way.
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Thanks again to all of you for your kind donations and many story ideas. From now on, please use the following address: email@example.com. In the next few blogs, I intend to cover the following stories:
- Current and previous police investigations of Gorila.
- New police and SIS appointments.
- Political party financing.
But please keep sending tips, I’ll be working on them at the same time.