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Spotlight: Poland's justice system

17th September 2012
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A recorded telephone conversation between a judge and a journalist posing as an official in the Prime Minister’s Chancellery has gripped public attention and brought to the fore questions about whether the Polish government routinely pressures members of the judicial system for political gain.

The conversation was released to the media last week, and involved judge Ryszard Milewski, the head judge of the District Court in Gdańsk, and a journalist from the right-wing Gazeta Polska Codziennie newspaper.

In the recording, the journalist tells the judge that the PM’s office is interested in the Amber Gold case, which is being heard by Mr Milewski’s court, and that the head of Mr Tusk’s Chancellery, Tomasz Arabski, would like to meet him in order to “arrange when the next court hearing on Amber Gold should be held.”

Amber Gold was a “parabank” that attracted clients with promises of high returns on investments in gold-indexed instruments, but has now gone bust and is being described as a pyramid scheme by government officials.

Its owner, Marcin P., has been arrested and charged with cheating thousands of people out of over zł.180 million. At one point, the prime minister’s son, Michał Tusk, worked for a low-cost airline owned by Amber Gold.

In the conversation, the journalist also told the judge that the prime minister wanted a meeting with him but didn’t want it to coincide with any Amber Gold case hearings, so as not to be perceived as “amounting to pressure.”

In response, the judge offered several dates he could order the next hearing, asking whether the PM’s office wanted him to “speed up the case or not.”

The journalist then asked Mr Milewski whether he “trusted” the judges he had assigned to the case, to which the judge replied, “Don’t you worry about that.”

Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin said the judge’s behavior was “scandalous” and that he should be dismissed. “In independent courts, we shouldn’t have people who are ready to accept political dispensations,” Mr Gowin said.

Poland’s largest opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), has said a parliamentary commission must be established to investigate the Amber Gold affair, since it suspects the government has something to hide. It also suggests that Mr Milewski’s readiness to cooperate with the government represented not an isolated incident, but rather a practice common in the Polish justice system.

Mr Tusk has rejected the calls for a parliamentary commission, saying it would be a “political spectacle.” He also said it was possible that a crime has been committed by the newspaper that obtained the recording.

From Warsaw Business Journal by Remi Adekoya

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