Police enter Polish presidential palace to detain convicted former ministers holed up inside

A dramatic standoff came to an end this evening after police officers entered the presidential palace and detained two politicians who served in the former Law and Justice (PiS) government. They had holed up there for hours following a court order to begin two-year prison sentences for abuse of power.

Their arrests have been condemned by PiS figures, who argue that the pair – Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik – are “political prisoners” of the new government led by Donald Tusk. But figures from Tusk’s ruling coalition insist that police officers were simply enforcing lawful court order.

Today’s unprecedented events began when police this morning confirmed that they had received instructions from a court in Warsaw to detain Kamiński and Wąsik, who were last month handed binding convictions for abusing their powers during a corruption investigation.

UPDATE: The two former PiS government ministers subject to a warrant requiring police to take them to jail have just been pictured alongside President Duda during a ceremony at the presidential palace.

For more, see our full report in the post above https://t.co/T3WcIy7Bqb

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 9, 2024

Kamiński served as interior minister and minister in charge of the security services under the former PiS government, which was in power until last month. Wąsik was his deputy minister. Their convictions, however, stem from an earlier period of PiS rule from 2005 to 2007, when the pair headed the Central Anticorruption Bureau.

In 2015, after Kamiński and Wąsik had received an initial conviction in the abuse-of-power case but while they were still appealing against it, President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, issued them with presidential pardons.

Last year, a chamber of the Supreme Court found those pardons to be invalid because an act of pardon before the final verdict violates the principles of the separation of powers and is an unjustified encroachment of the president into the remit of the judiciary. That paved the way for them to receive the final conviction in December.

Two members of the former PiS government have been given prison sentences and banned from holding public office https://t.co/MwVYS9t1Na

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 20, 2023

But another top court, the Constitutional Tribunal (TK), ruled that the Supreme Court has no right to question presidential pardons. Last week, a separate chamber of the Supreme Court effectively recognised the pardons as valid. Both that chamber and the TK are staffed by PiS-appointed judges.

When police this morning attempted to detain Kamiński and Wąsik at their homes, they found them not to be present. Then, shortly after noon, Duda shared images of himself with Kamiński and Wąsik at the presidential palace, where he had invited them to attend a ceremony.

Subsequently, the pair remained at the palace for hours, at one stage even coming out to give a press conference in the courtyard before returning inside. Police officers were reportedly waiting outside the palace grounds to detain Kamiński and Wąsik if they left.

The two PiS politicians currently being sought by police just walked out of the presidential palace, gave a press conference at which they accused the government of trying to turn Poland into a “totalitarian dictatorship”, then walked back into the palace https://t.co/k4ozONL0Bz

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 9, 2024

Marek Chmaj, a professor of constitutional law, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that there was no legal obstacle to the police entering the presidential palace. But he noted that any such action would likely only take place in agreement with Duda’s chancellery out of “respect for the highest office of state”.

Around 7.30 p.m., media reports began to emerge that police had entered the palace. That happened shortly after Duda himself had left the premises to attend a meeting.

Soon after, the interior ministry and then the police confirmed that Kamiński and Wąsik had been detained. “Everyone is equal before the law,” tweeted interior minister Marcin Kierwiński.

W nawiązaniu do wcześniejszej wiadomości, informujemy, że zgodnie z nakazem sądu, osoby których dotyczyły dyspozycje, zostały zatrzymane.

— Policja Warszawa (@Policja_KSP) January 9, 2024

Leading PiS figures, however, condemned the authorities. “Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik are the first political prisoners of Tusk’s regime,” wrote former prime minister Beata Szydło.

“For the first time since Jaruzelski, we have political prisoners in Poland,” wrote another former PiS prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, referring to Wojciech Jaruzelski, the communist leader who oversaw martial law in the 1980s.

PiS argues both that Kamiński and Wąsik are innocent and that last month’s convictions against them have no effect because Duda’s pardons remain valid. They claim the pair have been victimised by the former and current Tusk governments and judges because of their effectiveness in the fight against corruption.

Commentators have noted, however, that the duo were convicted on the basis of evidence of wrongdoing in the investigation they oversaw into a corruption scandal, including illegal surveillance and the production of fake documents.

Afera gruntowa. O co w niej chodziło? To za nią skazani zostali Kamiński i Wąsik https://t.co/RuYXPsRKiv pic.twitter.com/l4dnNnMXKn

— Wirtualna Polska (@wirtualnapolska) January 9, 2024

Speaking this evening after the arrests, Grażyna Ignaczak-Bandych, the head of Duda’s chancellery, also condemned the actions of police, who “we believe entered [the palace] illegally”.

“The dignity of the Polish state has been violated,” she told TV Republika. “Mechanisms have been activated that are dangerous to the democratic state of law. If you can disregard the president’s pardon and the president’s hospitality, it is a violation of all laws and the president will not consent to it.”

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: Igor Smirnow/KPRP

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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