Special commission to investigate “Rywingate” affair in Poland

Date: 1/23/03

The Polish parliament has established a special commission to investigate the so-called “Rywingate” affair that involves an alleged bribe to facilitate purchase of a television station by a media company, Transitions Online (TOL) reported.

Adam Michnik, the editor-in-chief of the leading daily, Gazeta Wyborca, alleges that he was solicited a bribe of U.S.$17.5 million by film producer Lew Rywin, who purportedly acted on behalf of Prime Minister Leszek Miller and other prominent cabinet members. A government spokesman has denied that Rywin was acting for the prime minister.

In a July 2002 conversation taped by Michnik, Rywin purportedly said that upon receiving the $17.5 million, the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) would rewrite the controversial draft media law to allow the purchase of Polsat television by Gazeta’s publisher, Agora. Excerpts from the taped conversation were published in Gazeta on December 27. (See related IJNet story of January 9 in Archive).

The draft media bill, however would forbid nationwide newspaper publishers from entering the television market, blocking Agora’s bid to purchase Polsat. Agora representatives continue to claim that the law was purposefully crafted to prevent their acquisition of Polsat, TOL reported.

The commission, headed by Tomasz Nalecz, deputy speaker of the main chamber of the parliament, will specifically investigate corruption charges against Rywin and his alleged links with Premier Miller’s SLD. The commission’s sessions will be open, unless, in the words of one parliament member, “state secrets emerge,” TOL added.

Although most criticism from opposition parties has targeted Prime Minister Miller, Michnik has also been criticized for delaying the publishing of the transcripts for six months. Michnik justified his action, saying that he wanted to research all facts in depth before going public. He also stated he did not want to harm Miller’s government in its negotiations for European Union accession, TOL reported.

Rywin’s only statement to the press came in the form of a letter to Miller, stating: “I want to assure you that the context of my conversations and contacts with the representatives of Agora, their real meaning and thus content, and my intentions, differed substantially from those mendaciously presented in the press,” TOL reported.

Early on when the affair surfaced, Polsat television’s chief executive officer, Zygmunt Solorz, told the Warsaw daily Zycie Warszawy that his channel would no longer consider Agora’s bid, TOL said.

Premier Miller and the Gazeta management have been at odds for a year, over the ownership rules proposed in the draft amendments to the media law. The Prime Minister argues that the amendments would help prevent media monopolies in Poland. Gazeta, in turn, says the law would obstruct Polish media owners and favor foreign players and pro-government media.

For more information, see RFE/RL (January 15); and TOL.

(January 21, 2003)