Prime ministers' former chief aide offers 'code' defence in Unipetrol corruption scandal

31-08-2005

Steadfastly maintaining his innocence, former top prime ministerial aide Zdenek Dolezel, sacked after being caught on hidden camera soliciting a bribe, now says in his defence that he was "speaking in code", aware that his conversations might be wiretapped. But Dolezel has offered no explanation for his on-camera remarks that alleged kickbacks to his one-time boss -- former Prime Minister Stanislav Gross -- were the "right direction" for securing a half-billion dollar privatisation deal.

Zdenek Dolezel says that when meeting with the Polish lobbyist Jacek Spyra, he was aware that he might be under surveillance. So when Dolezel tells Spyra, "If they want information, then five will be on the table" and Spyra asks if that means "five in Czech?," to which he says, "Yes," the two men have not just agreed on a five million crown payoff, as the media have reported.

What they had just agreed on, Dolezel insists, is that he and Spyra would not be alone at upcoming negotiations on a major privatisation. "Five on the table", he told a leading Czech daily, meant that top state officials (presumably three of them) would be joining them at discussions.

Dolezel was reacting to a report aired on Tuesday by the commercial station TV Nova, which had secretly taped four meetings between the former aide and the Polish lobbyist, both of whom are now under police investigation for corruption.

Stanislav GrossStanislav Gross He has failed to offer any explanation as to why he would speak in code about "five on the table" - plans for meeting on the privatisation of the Czech oil and chemicals group Unipetrol - but not respond to allegations by the Polish lobbyist that top government officials, including Dolezel's boss, had taken or sought bribes.

In one of their taped conversations, for example, the Polish lobbyist says that former prime minister Stanislav Gross got a 50 million crown payoff from the head of Agrofert, a company that secured a lucrative contract with Unipetrol. What Dolezel did suggest—on tape—was that such payments were the "right direction" with regard to winning that privatisation bid.

Dolezel now insists that he knows of no corruption on Gross' part while the former prime minister himself says the bribery allegations are "a pack of lies".

Meanwhile, Polish courts have begun looking into the privatisation of Unipetrol and a contract the company made with Agrofert. The Polish company PKN Orlen, which paid 540 million dollars for a controlling stake in Unipetrol, has filed a criminal complaint over what it calls a "secret" Unipetrol-Agrofert deal that amounted to a "payoff" to Czech politicians.

31-08-2005