Government at war with the coal mafia
There is a strong clue pointing to the Russians as the source of the tape scandal. The Polish government has been recently trying to spoil their plans.
Lemongrass, a Warsaw restaurant that no longer exists, at the corner of Al. Ujazdowskie St. and Matejko St., about 200 meters away from the building of the Polish Parliament. This is where the tape scandal, which has shaken Poland last week, may have started.
It was the favorite restaurant of the members of the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, the leading party in the Polish government) and many businessmen. Although it did not lack customers with thick wallets, it was closed. It was due to the fact, that Polish secret service warned politicians that the restaurant may have links with the Russians and the Russian secret service.
It is exactly the same restaurant where Lukasz N., already arrested in connection with the tape scandal, worked as a manager. When Lemongrass was closed, Lukasz N. started to work for Sowa&Friends. It is there, that the majority of tapes were recorded. That is why agents now suspect him of organizing the whole taping.
Lemongrass belonged to Andrzej K. This businessman is not widely known, but he is interesting, according to the findings of journalists of tvn24.pl. Their journalistic investigation shows that in the years 2000-2005 he was the finance director of the Polish branch of Lukoil, the Russian oil giant. Having closed Lemongrass, he started to work for Allovita, which belonged - according to the journalists - to Andriy Persona aka Kononenko.
Several years ago Persona had a role in the huge affair, based on bribes. Krzysztof Baszniak, former Deputy Minister of Labour, secretly testified, that Persona represented the interests of Semyon Mogilevich, associated with one of the biggest mafia in the world – soloncevska. He was arrested, but quickly released. According to the journalists of tvn24.pl, he also played a significant role in the gas trade in the region – he co-owned RosUkrEnergo, which controlled the supply of fuel from Russia to Ukraine. Andrzej Barcikowski, former head of the Internal Security Agency, confirmed tvn24.pl that MPs and the government had been warned, that Persona "acted in a way that aroused suspicion that in fact he is not a businessman, but rather a person connected with foreign intelligence services".
Recordings were made not only in the restaurant Sowa&Friends, but also in the Sobański Palace, the headquarters of the Polish Business Council. The link between both places is... Lukasz N. According to our findings, his brother was employed in the Sobański Palace. Other sources indicate, that it was his lifemate, who worked there. They might have helped Lukasz N. with taping.
Why have they taped conversations? There are two hypotheses: either for the money, or they were forced to do that. In the latter case the clue could lie in the past of Lukasz N. and could be an easy tool to blackmail him and persuade to cooperate. There is no doubt that even if Lukasz N. did the taping, he was rather following someone else’s plan.
Mafia strikes back...
Why do the recordings leak to the media right now? Let’s go back a few months. For some time the Polish coal market has been facing an increasing problem – mines are incurring losses and stocks are growing, but the coal offered to end-users is expensive. According to experts, coal imports from Russia are at the basis of this problem.
Russian coal is on average 30 percent cheaper than the coal offered by Polish mines. It rapidly gains the market. According to estimates made by the Chamber of Retailers of Polish Coal, Russian coal’s share in the total consumption of coal in the individual clients’ sector increased from 30 to about 40 percent last winter. This means that the situation of importers is increasingly favorable, while Polish mines fall into financial troubles – Kompania Węglowa and JSW showed multimillion-dollar losses. Kompania, the biggest mining company in the country, is even on the verge of bankruptcy.
In addition to increasing imports of coal, there is a problem of illegal imports, growing even faster. On May 6th, in Silesia, Prime Minister Donald Tusk made a statement on the “protection for Polish coal”. What did he mean?
"We will try to eliminate unfair imports (...) and observe quality standards, so that Polish coal is not victim of unfair or ambiguous operations on imported coal " - said Donald Tusk.
According to our findings, Donald Tusk asked Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, Minister of the Interior, to check whether there was any criminal activity in the import chain and that said that it was a priority.
- I confirm that. In addition, Prime Minister obliged Sienkiewicz to prepare a report on this subject. The report was prepared by the Internal Security Agency and submitted to the Prime Minister on June 6th. It is secret - says Paul Majcher, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
On June 5th Prime Minister visited Silesia again. He suggested on this occasion that a network of state-owned coal stores should be created, able to compete with private networks. It should be created by state-owned distribution companies.
On June 4th the Central Bureau of Investigation detained 10 people associated with the company Składywęgla.pl, Marcin W. - the CEO - among them. Managers of MM Group (owns 40 percent. in Składywęgla.pl) are suspected, among others, of fraud, VAT extortion and laundering of PLN 85mln. Police in Bydgoszcz reported that coal imported from Russia and Kazakhstan was offered as Polish coal, that importers cheated on its quality and quantity, created fictitious documentation and that some transactions were not recorded at all. Suspects were charged with participation in an organized criminal group aiming at crimes and tax crimes, sales fraud and money laundering. Investigators estimate that the suspects could extort at least PLN 35mln of undue VAT refund, fraud PLN 30mln and laundered more than PLN 22 mln.
These two blows - tightening the loop around gangs importing illegal coal from Russia and the announcement of protection for Polish coal - hit hard in the illegal business. This could lead to the decision of coal mafia to strike back and to release to the media the tapes with conversation between Sienkiewicz and Marek Belka, chairman of the Polish National Bank. The goal was to discredit the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and induce shock in the Polish political scene. One of the likely scenarios was that - in response to the disclosed tapes - Prime Minister revokes Sienkiewicz. Heads of departments could also lose their jobs and that would destabilize the work of the services. Moreover, it would direct their full attention to tapes and completely turn away from the coal mafia.
But Donald Tusk did not sack anyone.
... with Brussels in the background
New tapes leaked this weekend. These are, among others, conversations between Radek Sikorski and Jacek Rostowski. "Wprost” weekly published pieces in which Foreign Minister, Sikorski, speaks unfavorably about the United States.
Observers point out that the whole affair comes at a time , when important negotiations are going on in Brussels. Poland is trying to secure its influence on EU energy policy, and Minister Sikorski was - according to the German media - the favorite in the race for the post of head of EU diplomacy.
- Russians know that a Polish Commissioner in energy means tough business for them and a potential loss of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions - says one of our sources.
The idea that that the leakage of tapes is not accidental, but supports specific interests, is reinforced by the fact that - as "Wprost" revealed - recordings were given to journalists by a businessman. Does he act to protect the interests of coal mafia or is he merely a tool in the hands of foreign intelligence? It is an open question.
- This person may, however, be only a "puppet" - wrote on Twitter Michal M. Lisiecki, the owner of "Wprost".
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