Saturday, October 10, 2009

Polish Sports Minister Quits Over Casino Scandal

From: New York Times
Miroslaw Drzewiecki: Guilty as hell
Poland's sports minister resigned on Monday over a lobbying scandal that has begun to tarnish the image of Prime Minister Donald Tusk's ruling centre-right Civic Platform (PO).

Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki is one of several high profile officials accused by an anti-graft body of acting on behalf of businessmen trying to water down a bill on higher taxes on the gambling business.

Tusk, who accepted Drzewiecki's resignation, cannot afford any whiff of corruption to infect his party before a presidential election next year in which he is expected to challenge conservative incumbent Lech Kaczynski.

Poles also elect a new parliament in 2011.

Drzewiecki said in a statement he had done nothing wrong but that he had stood down to prevent the scandal harming important projects, especially the EURO 2012 football championship that Poland is due to co-host with Ukraine.

"I believe that when the media frenzy dies down and all the circumstances relating to the gambling bill have been clarified, it will turn out that I have been falsely accused," he said.

"(But) I cannot allow this situation to affect the Euro 2012 preparations or my beloved Orliki project," he said, referring to plans to build soccer stadiums for children.

Last week, Tusk also suspended close associate Zbigniew Chlebowski, head of PO's parliamentary group, pending an investigation into the casino bill allegations.

The anti-PO Rzeczpospolita daily has published a series of transcripts of conversations between Chlebowski and businessmen concerning the gambling bill. The transcripts mention both Drzewiecki and Deputy Prime Minister Grzegorz Schetyna.

Chlebowski and Schetyna, like Drzewiecki, deny wrongdoing.


The agency behind the claims, the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA), was set up by Tusk's conservative predecessor Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is the president's twin brother and now heads the main opposition party Law and Justice (PiS).

Tusk has said the CBA allegations are politically motivated.

He has also vowed that the casino bill will shortly come before parliament and that it will include hikes in gambling taxes to help net more cash for Poland's strained state coffers.

An opinion poll published in Monday's Dziennik newspaper had shown more than two thirds of Poles thought Drzewiecki should quit over what Polish media has dubbed "Blackjack-gate."

The Homo Homini poll also showed support for PO has slipped to 41 percent from 47 percent since the claims first appeared. But opposition parties have so far not been able to profit very much from the case, the poll showed.

Kaczynski's PiS, a right-wing, eurosceptic party, saw its ratings edge up only slightly to 28 percent from 27 percent. Support for the leftist SLD remained broadly flat at 10 percent.

Political analysts say the scandal is unlikely to undermine seriously PO's big lead, which is underpinned by Poland's relatively robust performance in the global economic crisis.

Poland is the only European Union member state to escape recession. Despite a growing budget deficit, the government has signalled it will defer any significant tax hikes or spending cuts aimed at restoring order to the public finances until 2011.