Fri, Aug 09, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Was Polish scandal a Russian test for US election tampering?

A former Polish foreign minister said the ‘Waitergate’ scandal that toppled a pro-EU administration should have served as a warning to US officials, but the US ‘was too arrogant’ to take heed

By Vanessa Gera  /  The AP, WARSAW, Poland

Illustration: Mountain People

High-ranking Polish politicians used a side door to get to the VIP section of Sowa & Przyjaciele, a posh Warsaw restaurant.

Sealed off from other patrons, government ministers and lawmakers felt free to speak their minds while enjoying continental cuisine and wine at taxpayers’ expense.

However, privacy was an illusion, the special dining room a trap.

For about a year, waiters secretly recorded public officials at Sowa & Przyjaciele and another restaurant, Amber Room.

When a news magazine published transcripts from some of the recordings, it spawned a scandal dubbed “Waitergate” that helped topple a pro-EU government.

Suspicions that Russia and the nationalist political party that won Poland’s 2015 election were behind the illegal eavesdropping persisted, even after a Polish multimillionaire was convicted as the mastermind.

With the country’s next election coming up this fall, a Polish journalist and the jailed tycoon have provided fresh fuel for claims that Waitergate was a prelude to Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

Grzegorz Rzeczkowski, a respected investigative reporter for the Polityka news magazine, argues in a new book that Russian intelligence services carried out the restaurant buggings on behalf of the Kremlin.

He also presents evidence to allege that Polish intelligence figures conspired to use the recordings to bring the right-wing Law and Justice party (PIS) to power.

In his book, In a Foreign Alphabet: How People of the Kremlin and PIS Played with the Eavesdropping, Rzeczkowski maintains that, just as with the US election meddling that former US special counsel Robert Mueller called “sweeping and systematic,” Russia’s goal with Waitergate was to weaken the West.

“It was to open the road to power for the anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-democratic opposition of the time. Russia had a full, spectacular success,” Rzeczkowski told a Polish parliamentary panel last month.

The panel stemmed from an opposition lawmaker’s push to pressure the government to shed light on the alleged Russian connection.

A newspaper subsequently reported that Poland’s counterintelligence service is investigating whether a foreign spy agency played a role.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dismissed claims of Kremlin involvement.

“Poland’s political establishment and media community have been working for years to put out a multitude of hoaxes about ‘Russian machinations.’ We see no need to comment on such absurd allegations,” the ministry said.

REHEARSAL

A wariness that Russia is trying to destabilize democracy in central Europe has permeated politics in Poland and neighboring nations since they ended communism after decades under Moscow’s control.

Many have since joined NATO and the EU while more have applied.

When the eavesdropping scandal broke five years ago, then-Polish prime minister Donald Tusk immediately pointed to Russia.

His remark would give Rzeczkowski his book title.

“I do not know in which alphabet this scenario was written, but I know exactly who could be the beneficiary,” Tusk said.

Tusk became president of the European Council several months after the scandal unfolded, a job that involves overseeing the common agenda of the EU’s national leaders.

He recently said he was more convinced now of “the Russian track in this whole affair.”

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top