Former PiS ministers given jail sentences in abuse of power case

Mariusz Kamiński, who served as interior minister in Poland’s former Law and Justice (PiS) government, and one of his deputy ministers, Maciej Wąsik, have been handed two-year prison sentences in relation to their actions during an investigation into a corruption scandal.

The ruling – described by one of the lawyers involved as “groundbreaking” – comes following a long-running and controversial process that saw the pair pardoned by President Andrzej Duda but that decision then ruled invalid by the Supreme Court, paving the way for today’s convictions.

❗️Były szef CBA Mariusz Kamiński i jego zastępca Maciej Wąsik zostali skazani na dwa lata więzienia w związku z tzw. aferą gruntową. Orzeczenie Sądu Okręgowego w Warszawie jest prawomocne

— Patryk Michalski (@patrykmichalski) December 20, 2023

The issue in question dates back to the period when PiS was first in power from 2005 to 2007. At that time, it appointed Kamiński as head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA).

In 2009, after PiS had lost power but when Kamiński was still head of the CBA, he and three of his subordinates were charged with exceeding their powers in an investigation into a corruption scandal that had led to the resignation of deputy prime minister Andrzej Lepper and the collapse of the PiS-led government two years earlier.

The case – called the “land scandal” by the media – concerned claims made by Polish businessmen that thanks to their contacts in the agriculture ministry they were able to change the legal status of any plot of land in Poland.

In 2015, the four CBA officials were found guilty by a court in Warsaw, with Kamiński sentenced to three years in prison and given a ten-year ban from holding public office. However, he and the others maintained their innocence and appealed against the convictions.

Before those appeals could be heard, President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, decided to issue presidential pardons to all four of the accused in November 2015. He did so one day after Kamiński had been appointed minister in charge of the security services in a new PiS-led government.

The Supreme Court has rejected the president’s pardon of a government minister who was in the process of appealing against a conviction for exceeding his powers and a ban on holding public office.

Such a pardon „does not have legal effect”, says the court

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 6, 2023

In 2019, Kamiński additionally became interior minister. He continued serving in both positions until last month. His deputy during that period was Wąsik, one of the other former CBA officials found guilty in 2015 and then pardoned by Duda.

However, many experts argued that Duda’s pardons were invalid because they were issued while the accused were still appealing against their initial convictions, meaning they had not actually received a binding conviction that they could be pardoned of.

In June this year, the Supreme Court agreed with such arguments, rejecting Duda’s pardons and opening the way for Kamiński and Wąsik’s appeals to be heard. However, the Constitutional Tribunal, a body seen as being under PiS influence, ruled the same month that the Supreme Court had no right to rule on the case.

The constitutional court has issued a ruling upholding President Duda’s decision to pardon the security services minister, who had been found guilty of exceeding his powers and banned from public office but was in the process of appealing that conviction

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 3, 2023

Kamiński and Wąsik’s case nevertheless returned to court, and today the guilty verdict against them and the others involved in the case was upheld, though their punishments were reduced: the prison sentences from three years to two, and bans from public office from ten years to five. The ruling is now binding.

“This case is groundbreaking,” one of the lawyers in the case, Jacek Dubois, told news website Onet. “It concerns the responsibility of state officials on a scale that Poland has never encountered before. What happened was de facto an attack on the state.”

“The consequences for the country were enormous: it was the fall of the government, new elections, but mainly the long-term damage to trust in state institutions,” he added.

Łukasz Chojniak, a criminal lawyer, told broadcaster TVN that it remains unclear what will happen next. He noted that Kamiński and Wąsik could file a further appeal to the Supreme Court, while Duda could also now issue another presidential pardon.

Jutro rano składamy wniosek do Sądu Penitencjarnego aby skazani Mariusz K. I Maciej W. rozpoczęli natychmiast odbywanie kary pozbawienia wolności. Posłowie nie są lepsi od innych obywateli. Niech się ubiegają o kasacje lub łaskę z zakładu karnego.

— Roman Giertych (@GiertychRoman) December 20, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Maciek Jazwiecki / Agencja

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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