In a dramatic escalation of Poland's battle to restore the rule of law, police entered the country's presidential palace on Tuesday evening and detained two lawmakers who were hiding under the protection of President Andrzej Duda after they were sentenced to prison for abuse of power. .
The arrests come at the heart of the fight between Duda and new Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is seeking to end eight years of rule by the nationalist conservative Law and Justice Party, rooting out loyalists to the previous administration from key institutions such as the media, the courts and state-owned companies.
Duda is allied with PiS and still has great capacity to thwart Tusk's attempts at reform. The case of two convicted PiS lawmakers – Mariusz Kaminski and Maciej Wasik – who enjoyed presidential protection quickly turned into a decisive battle of wills between the two camps, until the police finally pounced.
“As per the court order, the persons subject to the orders have been arrested,” police said. He said.
The conflict over the fate of the MPs highlights the huge problem facing the new government in resolving the chaos caused by the Law and Justice Party in the country's judicial system. The new Tusk administration, which unexpectedly won elections in October, wants to reshape the country to bring it back into line with the EU's democratic rules – releasing billions in frozen EU funds and making Warsaw once again a powerful player in Europe.
Earlier on Tuesday, Parliament Speaker Simon Holonia described the situation around the fugitive MPs as a “deep constitutional crisis”, while Tusk read out criminal law penalties for hiding people wanted by police.
“Maybe it is a good thing that this whole crisis happened, because everyone can see the kind of chaos that PiS has, unfortunately, led to, along with President Duda, by ‘reforming’ the Polish judicial system,” Holonia said.
Duda insists he pardoned the two in 2015 while they were on trial for using forged documents in a 2007 attempt to criminalize PiS allies. PiS had hoped to destroy the junior coalition party and co-opt its representatives to allow it to govern alone – but the effort exploded into a scandal that led to the collapse of the government.
Kaminsky was then head of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau and Wasik was his deputy.
In 2017, Poland's Supreme Court ruled that the presidential pardon was ineffective because it was granted before a final ruling in the case and sent the matter back to a lower court, which convicted the two in December and sentenced them to two years in prison. However, the Constitutional Court, another high court controlled by PiS loyalists, issued its own ruling concluding that an amnesty was in order.
Kaminsky and Wasik ignored their prison sentence.
“We don't acknowledge it, it's not our judgment; “It's a complete mess of the law,” Kaminsky said after the court's ruling, while Wasik said: “We don't feel guilty, we don't feel guilty. We got a proper pardon from the president.”
But Holonia said the two were no longer members of Parliament, citing a legal provision that prevents convicted people from serving in Parliament, which he said would prevent them from participating in legislative sessions.
The two refused to accept this, and threatened to enter the Legislative Council for a session scheduled for Wednesday, prompting Holonia to postpone the session until next week.
“There is no guarantee that this hectic week, filled with all kinds of compromises, decisions, quarrels and reports, will go smoothly,” Holonia said.
The courts are not making his job any easier.
A few days ago, a chamber of Poland's Supreme Court — whose independence has been questioned by European courts and whose judges were appointed in a way that critics say violates Polish law — found that Holonia was wrong in ruling that the two were not right. Representatives are taller. But another chamber of the Supreme Court, recognized by other courts, is scheduled to issue its ruling on Wednesday.
At the same time, the court that convicted Kaminski and Vasek issued a letter to the police calling for their transfer to prison.
However, Duda invited them to his palace in central Warsaw.
On Tuesday afternoon, they went outside to make a brief comment to reporters before returning to the ornate columned building.
“There is a very serious crisis in the country. A dark dictatorship is taking shape. We cannot allow political prisoners into Poland,” Kaminski said.
The police enter
However, in the evening, Duda left the building to meet with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and police moved in during his absence.
“The rule of law finally works” chirp Michal Shcherba, a member of parliament from the Civic Coalition, one of the parties forming the new government.
But Kaminsky and Vasek's supporters denounced their arrest as illegal.
Beata Szydlo, former PiS Prime Minister, Named They are “the first political prisoners of the Tusk regime.”
Duda could free them from prison, but he would have to issue another pardon — something he has refused to do so far.
“My position is clear: presidential powers have been effectively exercised in 2015, and the men have been pardoned. The case has thus been closed once and for all. “The men have parliamentary seats.” He said Earlier this week.
However, even if they did, Holonia insists they would still have a conviction on their records, making them ineligible to serve as members of parliament.
The fighting around Kaminski and Vasek forms part of a broader war, as Tusk and his government attempt to seize control of institutions in the hands of PiS loyalists, while setting up special commissions to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing committed by the previous government.
“A lot depends on the determination of the new government and how far it will go in returning Poland to the rule of law,” said Jakub Jarachewski, a researcher at Democracy Reporting International, an NGO.
Last month, the government broke the rules and took control of state media, which became the PiS's propaganda arm. This led to an angry reaction from PiS loyalists, with Duda promising to veto the spending bill and lawsuits filed in courts loyal to the former ruling party.
“Did anyone really think we were on a light, easy, fun mission? No, it's going to be hard and difficult and unpleasant for a while. That's what you hired me for.” “I'm not complaining,” Tusk chirp last week.
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