Poland’s state auditor notifies prosecutors of suspected crimes by ex-PM and other officials

Poland’s state audit office has notified prosecutors of suspected crimes by former Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other senior officials from the Law and Justice (PiS) government that was in power until last year.

The Supreme Audit Office (NIK) accuses them of “abuse of powers and failure to fulfil official duties and thus acting to the detriment of the public interest” during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crimes can carry a jail sentence of up to three years.

Specifically, NIK says that its “analysis of evidence collected in the course of inspections” indicates that the actions of the officials caused financial “losses at the local government level of at least 4 billion zloty” (€931 million)

NIK po kontroli zapewnienia samorządom finansowania w okresie reform podatkowych i odbudowy po pandemii Covid-19 kieruje zawiadomienie o podejrzeniu popełnienia przestępstwa i wnioski de lege ferenda:https://t.co/Z0jCmNyXQI pic.twitter.com/WdUHn9u8ez

— Najwyższa Izba Kontroli (NIK) (@NIKgovPL) April 2, 2024

In a press release on Tuesday, NIK did not specifically name the officials in question, but said that its notification concerned the former prime minister (a post held by Morawiecki throughout the pandemic).

It also said that notifications had been issued against a former finance minister (a position held between 2019 and 2023 by Tadeusz Kościński and Magdalena Rzeczkowska, as well as briefly by Morawiecki himself between them), a deputy finance minister, and “other state officials”.

The notifications follow the presentation last month of the results of a NIK audit, which found that the increased financial burden and range of activities imposed on local authorities during the pandemic had left some facing “financial collapse”.

NIK’s president, Marian Banaś (a former member of the PiS government who then became one of its main opponents), noted that these growing burdens had been accompanied by government tax reforms that reduced funding for local authorities.

Warsaw will lose 3.5bn zloty in revenue over two years due to the government’s tax overhaul, says the mayor.

Given the greater financial burdens it is facing, including the influx of Ukrainian refugees, the city is „threatened with catastrophe”, he warns https://t.co/f7qSz64Q8J

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 14, 2022

In 2022, Warsaw’s mayor, Rafał Trzaskwoski, estimated that his city stood to lose 3.5 billion zloty (€820 million) in revenue over two fiscal years due to the government’s tax reforms.

NIK found that the government’s actions were particularly discriminatory against the capital, but that other large cities, such as Kraków, Łódź, Poznań, Szczecin and Wrocław, also suffered losses.

According to the auditors, work on the tax overhaul by the PiS government was non-transparent and undocumented. NIK recommended that the new government, which has been in power since December, amend the law so that local authorities are compensated “in the event of any future changes”.

The government misspent billions on its pandemic response, including spending more on maintaining empty Covid beds than on treating patients, says the state audit office.

It wants prosecutors to bring charges against the state assets minister https://t.co/xPpAmEsesn

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 12, 2023

NIK is also expected today to submit further notifications to prosecutors of suspected crimes by Morawiecki, his former chief of staff Michał Dworczyk, and former PiS state assets minister Jacek Sasin in relation to the purchase of protective equipment by state-owned companies during the pandemic.

The notifications will also concern a former CEO of state oil firm Lotos and employees of the government’s Material Reserves Agency (ARM), according to the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

The decision was taken after auditors concluded that Morawiecki’s chancellery had spent nearly 200 million zloty “wastefully, unreliably and unintentionally” between 2020 and 2021

NIK found that the personal protective equipment, such as face masks, was purchased from vendors who did not have prior experience in that market. The products they provided were “many times more expensive” and of questionable quality.

Masks purchased from China by a Polish state-owned firm have failed safety tests.

The masks arrived on board the world’s largest aircraft, greeted on the tarmac by the PM. Earlier reports that they were defective were dismissed as „fake news” by the firm https://t.co/yJq3tsFBLZ

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 19, 2020

NIK also found that although the state-owned companies imported masks and protective suits from companies designated by the state assets ministry, the prime minister’s office only reimbursed Lotos for part of the money spent on this purpose.

In response to the accusations, Morawiecki today said that he is happy to “take full responsibility myself” for the purchases in questions. He noted that the decisions were taken early in the pandemic, when there was a global scramble for protective equipment.

“I asked everyone who can, wherever they can, to buy what can save the lives of Poles,” said Morawiecki. “I believe that…a court will have enough common sense and honesty to look at what was happening then around the world, in Europe and in Poland.”

Morawiecki o zarzutach NIK dot. Covid-19: biorę całą odpowiedzialność na siebie#PAPinformacje https://t.co/FFCksgIScj

— PAP (@PAPinformacje) April 3, 2024

As far back as 2021, NIK notified prosecutors of a possible criminal offence by Prime Minister Morawiecki and three ministers in the context of the abandoned attempt to organise a presidential election by post at the start of the pandemic.

The public prosecutor’s office, which was under the government’s influence at the time, found no grounds to bring charges after four months of investigation and dropped the case.

However, the matter is currently being investigated by a special parliamentary committee set up by the new government.

The state audit office has failed to issue a positive opinion on the government’s annual budget spending for the first time since the fall of communism.

It found that „violations of basic budgetary principles” have taken place „on an unprecedented scale” https://t.co/LzN6GdmgIc

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 16, 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: KPRM (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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