A Polish opposition politician and former government minister who has been in pretrial detention for almost nine months over alleged corruption may now have to be released from custody in order to take up a seat in the European Parliament, where he would have immunity from prosecution.
The politician in question, Włodzimierz Karpiński, argues that he has been unfairly detained on political charges. But figures from Poland’s ruling camp have criticised him for seeking to evade justice.
Włodzimierz Karpiński wyraził zgodę na objęcie mandatu europosła – dowiedział się reporter RMF FM Krzysztof Zasada. To sytuacja bez precedensu, gdy polityk przebywający w areszcie może zostać deputowanym do Europarlamentu pic.twitter.com/9NPeCe4hkC
— Fakty RMF FM (@RMF24pl) November 8, 2023
The unprecedented situation has arisen because a Polish seat in the European Parliament has opened up after its holder, Krzysztof Hetman of the centrist Civic Coalition (KO) led by Donald Tusk, was elected to Poland’s parliament in last month’s elections.
That means his seat passes to the first unelected candidate on the same electoral list from the last European elections, which took place in 2019. In this case, that would have been Joanna Mucha, but she was later also elected as a member of the Polish parliament.
The subsequent person in line would have been Riad Haidar, but he died earlier this year. That means the position passes to Karpiński, who served as treasury minister from 2013 to 2015 and then later took up a post as head of Warsaw’s municipal waste management agency.
— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) November 8, 2023
In February this year, Karpiński was detained by Poland’s Central Anticorruption Bureau. He was then charged by prosecutors, who accuse him of receiving a bribe of almost 5 million zloty (€1.1 million) to favour certain companies to manage waste collection in Warsaw.
Karpiński denies the charges but has been kept in detention since February at the request of prosecutors. His current period of detention was due to expire on 24 November, but prosecutors are planning to ask judges to approve a further extension, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
However, because Karpiński has not been convicted of any crime, he is free to take up his mandate as a member of the European Parliament. And if he takes up that mandate – which comes with parliamentary immunity – he should be released from detention.
— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) August 22, 2023
This morning, broadcaster RMF reported that Karpiński had already sent a letter to the speaker of Poland’s parliament declaring his intention to take up the mandate. Subsequently, his five sons published an open letter on their father’s behalf confirming that he had done so.
“This is the only way to end the eight months of absurd, groundless and devastating detention imposed on him at the request of the National Prosecutor’s Office,” they wrote.
They described their father as “a hostage of political interests for the purposes of a campaign planned by PiS [the ruling Law and Justice party]”. They noted that during his 254 days of detention, prosecutors have only questioned Karpiński for around 10 hours in total.
The politician’s lawyer, Michał Królikowski, told RMF that his client was not seeking to evade justice, and would continue to cooperate with investigators after his release.
Przebywa w areszcie, zostanie europosłem. Jego synowie zabrali głos https://t.co/OvUGtfn1b1
— Onet Wiadomości (@OnetWiadomosci) November 8, 2023
However, Karpiński’s move has been criticised by figures from Poland’s ruling camp. Two MPs from the PiS parliamentary caucus, Jan Kanthak and Daniel Milewski, gave a press conference in parliament at which they declared it a “scandal” that “Karpiński will go from a cell to Brussels”.
“There used to be an Augean stable in Greek mythology; now we have Tusk’s stable, whose members do not want to answer to a court,” they added.
Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who is also public prosecutor general, suggested that Karpiński is going to the European Parliament in order to “vote in the interest of the pro-German majority, which guarantees him the preservation of EU immunity”.
— Suwerenna Polska (@Suwerenna_POL) November 8, 2023
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Main image credit: M. Śmiarowski/KPRM (under CC BY-NC 2.0)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.