Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Poland's Miners Block Roads
By Adam Easton
BBC News

Tuesday 26 July 2005

Thousands of Polish coal miners have begun a protest against government plans to restructure the loss-making industry.

Waving the red and white flags of the Solidarity trade union, miners marched peacefully across main roads in the industrial heartland of Silesia, bringing traffic to a standstill.

They're calling it the total blockade of Silesia.

Poland's miners are furious the government is unwilling to discuss its decision to close four pits in the area next year.

Talks between workers and the state coal company's management broke down earlier this week.

The demonstration is the latest in a series of protests, which turned violent earlier this month during a huge rally in Warsaw.

Angry miners threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, while police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Dozens of policemen and miners were injured.


Miner's leaders hope their firm stance will force Poland's unpopular Social Democrat government to back down.

It may yet do so.

High unemployment is one of the biggest problems facing a government already plagued by corruption scandals.

Some estimates put the number of jobless in Silesia at twice the national rate of 18%.

But Poland's coal industry - the second largest in Europe - is heavily in debt - to the tune of $6.5bn.

To make it more efficient and receive much needed World Bank funds, the government wants to cut costly production and shed 14,000 jobs.

And when Poland joins the European Union next May the government knows it will no longer have free rein to bale out the ailing coal sector.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Just when Poland's bid to host the 2012 finals together with Ukraine is making progress, Polish football has been hit by a major corruption scandal. To win, a team needs lost of ready cash and easy access to corrupt players and referees, according to a disgraced team owner who has come forward to claim that Poland's favourite sport is rotten to the core.

The revelations of Peter Dziurowicz, the owner of GKS Katwoice in Silesia in western Poland, have convinced many Poles that the results of any professional match in the country are open to question. The Polish Football Association has called an emergency meeting to figure out how to fix a sport that has been plagued for many years by corruption, low earnings, worn out facilities and top players who can't wait to play for a wealthier club in a foreign league.

His money doesn't seem to have been well spent. GKS is now playing in the fourth division, perhaps because the club was outbribed by its rivals. Even so, so much money was being paid out that the finances of the club began imploding. The 29-year old club president has been assisting police in their enquiries and his information has led to the arrest of two premier league referees as well as a referee observer.

Cleaning up football's image is increasingly important. The sport is attracting international sponsors such as Germany's Puma, which recently extended its sponsorhip agreement. Rich Poles such as Janusz Fillipak, chief executive of Comarch computer company and owner of Cracovia, a Krakow team, are buying football clubs.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Prosecutors probe alleged $1m CRH privatisation bribe

Polish prosecutors are investigating a privatisation deal at the centre of allegations that a $1 million (€839,000) bribe was paid on behalf of CRH, Ireland's largest company, to a former Polish government minister. Denis Staunton reports

Malgorzata Glapska-Dudkiewicz, a public prosecutor in Lodz, said in a statement to The Irish Times that her office's organised crime section was investigating the deal which saw CRH take a strategic, minority shareholding in the privatised plant.

"I can confirm that the Second Department for Organised Crime is conducting an investigation into the privatisation of Cementownia Ozarow in 1995," she said.

Marek Dochnal, a former lobbyist, has told a parliamentary inquiry that he paid a bribe worth almost $1 million on behalf of CRH to Wieslaw Kaczmarek, who was minister for privatisation at the time, in connection with the privatisation of Cementownia Ozarow.

In a statement last night, CRH said it would co-operate with the investigation.

"CRH did not pay money directly or indirectly, or authorise any such payment, to any Polish government representative or official, and has no knowledge of any such payment having been made.

"In the event of an investigation into the privatisation of Cementownia Ozarow, CRH will, of course, co-operate."

Holding Cement Polski (HCP), an investment company in which CRH had a 30 per cent strategic holding, acquired a 75 per cent shareholding in the privatised plant. CRH increased its stake in the plant over the next three years.

CRH has confirmed that it bought a stake in HCP from Larchmont Capital, in which Mr Dochnal was the principal shareholder, in 1995, but says it had no further connection with him.

Poland's first lady, Jolanta Kwasniewska, told the parliamentary inquiry last month that Mr Dochnal helped to arrange a meeting with CRH two years later, during which the company agreed to donate €125,000 to her charity.

The inquiry heard from a statement made to prosecutors by Zdzislaw Zaryczny, a former associate of Mr Dochnal's, who claimed to have arranged another meeting between Mrs Kwasniewska and CRH, during which the company made a further charitable donation of €25,000.

"I helped organise Mrs Kwasniewska's visit to the Walbrzych province. During this whole visit Mrs Kwasniewska was accompanied by a representative of CRH, Mr Declan Doyle. Towards the end of the visit at the castle at Ksiaz dinner was given, financed by Larchmont Capital. In the course of it Mrs Kwasniewska accepted gifts for the foundation: 100,000 zlotys (€25,000) from CRH . . ," he said

© 2005 The Irish Times