* Furore over leaked remarks by central banker, minister
* Businessman Zbigniew Jakubas mentioned in the tapes
* He says tape shows officials plotted against him
By Adrian Krajewski and Christian Lowe
WARSAW, June 18 The furore over a secretly
recorded conversation between two senior Polish officials has so
far focussed on comments that call into question the
independence of the central bank.
But businessman Zbigniew Jakubas says he is more upset about
another part of the tape: a section in which, according to a
transcript, Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and central
bank governor Marek Belka discuss how they can pressure
Jakubas's company to charge less for the coins it was proposing
to mint under a state contract.
According to the transcript published by the Wprost
magazine, Belka talks about the possibility of wielding a state
"truncheon" against Jakubas's mint, Mennica Polska,
and Sienkiewicz then alludes to organising various branches of
the government - such as the tax authorities and the central
bureau of investigation - in the effort. The transcript does not
contain details about what exactly the agencies would do.
Jakubas, 62, says that reading about the conversation made
him recall Poland's days under communism, when the party imposed
military rule and officials ordered his business destroyed.
"I'm not a vindictive person. But this hurts me," Jakubas,
ranked 14th among the wealthiest Poles by Forbes magazine, told
Reuters in an interview.
"I thought that after 25 years of freedom .... things had
moved on from martial law. But it seems some people still have
it in their heads that they can do anything," he said.
Asked to comment on Belka's remarks on the tape about the
mint, a central bank spokesman referred Reuters to an earlier
bank statement dealing with the tapes in general. That statement
said Belka's remarks had been taken out of context, and that
Belka has not stepped beyond the bounds of his authority.
Reuters contacted an interior ministry spokeswoman by phone
and email requesting comment about Sienkiewicz's remarks about
the mint. The spokeswoman did not provide a comment.
In a television interview, Sienkiewicz, when asked about the
mint conversation, questioned the accuracy of the transcript -
without saying which parts may be inaccurate - and said some of
the phrases he used sounded worse than they were because they
were a kind of shorthand used among friends.
Polish politics have been in an uproar since Saturday when
Wprost published excerpts of the tape transcript and posted part
of the audio on YouTube. In it, Belka is heard telling
Sienkiewicz he would be willing to help the government out of
its economic troubles if the finance minister were fired.
Prosecutors say they have no evidence Belka or Sienkiewicz
broke the law in their conversation, which Wprost said took
place in July last year. Prime Minister Donald Tusk says he sees
no reason to fire Sienkiewicz, and Belka also remains in his
Neither Belka nor Sienkiewicz has denied the conversation
took place but both have said their comments were misinterpreted
and they did nothing illegal.
But many Poles - and foreign investors - are concerned about
what the tape says about Poland's standards of governance, and
wonder if the country is as upstanding as they believed it had
become since Tusk's pro-market government came to power in 2007.
Poland has attracted huge investment since, partly because
it is viewed as having better and cleaner governance than other
Peter Attard Montalto, emerging markets economist with
Nomura, said the revelations have compelled Poland-watchers to
think about political risks they had not considered for some
"The next steps will determine if we can settle back to such
old ways or not," he wrote in a research note.
At the time the conversation took place, the central bank
was inviting bids from firms to manufacture Poland's lowest
denomination coins, the 1, 2 and 5 groszy coins.
Mennica Polska, which was already minting those coins under
a prior contract, was invited to bid along with mints from
Britain, Finland and Canada.
According to Belka's remarks in the transcript, his
preference was to award the contract to Mennica Polska. There
was public pressure for the contract to go to a Polish firm.
The contract was awarded in October last year to Britain's
Royal Mint. The central bank said at the time that Britain's bid
was lower than Mennica Polska's.
In the transcript, Belka talks about the difficulties of
getting the Polish mint to lower its bid and says it was
negotiating with an unnamed person who "already believes that we
have robbed him." Jakubas says the unnamed person was him, and
Sienkiewicz later names him in the exchange.
According to the transcript, Sienkiewicz replies: "Perhaps
we need to tell him how we can rob him more. Maybe he'll
Belka is quoted as saying that the person in question is
taking advantage of a weakness in the position of state
"Even though at the end of the day the state does have this
truncheon ... Here, what's needed is close cooperation with that
truncheon," Belka is quoted as saying in the transcript.
At this point, Sienkiewicz describes his experience bringing
together the central bureau of investigation (CBS), the tax
inspectorate (UKS) and the state treasury's intelligence arm to
work on joint projects.
"It seems to me that at some point this will also be a very
useful tool in our games with the kind of fat cats who believe
they can act with impunity," the transcript quotes Sienkiewicz
as saying, referring to the mint's tough negotiating position.
He said when those agencies tried to act alone against
Jakubas, whom he identified by name, they got nowhere. But, he
said: "All together, collected into a pile, that is completely
different, a completely different story."
Asked specifically about his remarks on the mint by
broadcaster TVN24, Sienkiewicz said: "I have never in any
respect, either in my words or actions, stepped beyond the law
and truthfully speaking I was acting to the benefit of the
Jakubas told Reuters he found the transcripts chilling.
In the 1980s, after quitting a job as a teacher in a
technical college, he ran a network of clothing boutiques in
Warsaw and a business in eastern Poland making clothes.
At the time, the Communist authorities tolerated some modest
private enterprise. But he said that, on "orders from the top of
the party," tax inspectors tried to wreck his business in the
eastern Polish town of Biala Podlaska.
They failed. His holding company, Multico, now includes the
mint, train manufacturer Newag, a gas pipeline maker,
a publisher and a film production company. Forbes magazine
estimated his wealth at 1.3 billion zlotys ($425.20 million).
He said of the leaked tape: "It's not just a question of the
personal damage, but it's the fact that in our country, which we
believed already to be a country ruled by law, this situation
can happen where a minister talks about taking a truncheon to
($1 = 3.0574 Polish Zlotys)
(Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Sonya