Polish corruption scandal adds to Miller's woes

 

POLAND: Embattled Polish Prime Minister, Mr Leszek Miller, yesterday denied any involvement in a corruption scandal when he testified at the bribery trial of Schindler's List co-producer Mr Lew Rywin.

The two-month-old trial of Mr Rywin, who also co-produced The Pianist, has added to the woes of Mr Miller's deeply unpopular minority government as it struggles to prepare Poland for EU accession in May. Mr Rywin was charged with soliciting a $17.5-million bribe from Adam Michnik, the editor of the leading Gazeta Wyborcza daily, in return for changes to legislation that would have allowed Gazeta's publisher to buy a television station.

Michnik in December 2002 published a transcript of a secretly recorded conversation, in which the film producer is heard saying he is acting on behalf of "a group holding power". "I had nothing to do with all this. I did not inspire anybody, I did not send Rywin anywhere. His mission was absurd," a calm-faced Mr Miller told the court, reiterating earlier statements from a special parliamentary inquiry into the case.

The "Rywingate" scandal, which has been a major talking point in Poland for 14 months, has helped push support for Mr Miller's Democratic Left Alliance to historic lows of 12-13 per cent from over 40 per cent at the 2001 general election.

"This whole affair has hit me really painfully. My credibility has been undermined. Becoming embroiled in all this, has made me the object of political attacks," said Mr Miller.

The dismal ratings forced Mr Miller to quit as party chief this week, although he vows to stay on as prime minister until general elections in 2005. A court appearance, even if only to restate his innocence, is the last thing Miller needs as he struggles to stay in control and push through austerity legislation to ward off a fiscal crisis, analysts said.

A senior SLD deputy renewed speculation that Mr Miller could step down as prime minister in the coming months.

Mr Rywin, who could face three years in jail if convicted, denies any wrongdoing and has said he was drunk when Michnik recorded their conversation.