Two Towers and Kaczyński Tapes

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The public image of political mastermind Jarosław Kaczyński and his successful and expansive Law and Justice party was shattered by a series of articles published by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily starting on January 29.

The image of Jarosław Kaczyński, who once famously said that “you don’t go into politics for money”, was built around a tale of modesty, honesty, lack of bank account, and too big suits he wore. His official property declaration for 2017 showed he had only PLN 19,000 (EUR 4,000) in savings.

The image of his party was correlated: PiS was supposed to be a party of new standards. True, there has been no such a party that was built on nepotism and political corruption in Poland. But the image of Jarosław Kaczyński has been so far unshaken…

For all PiS’s anti-corruption rhetoric, Poland has fallen to the 36th place in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index from (29th in 2015).

On January 29, however, Gazeta Wyborcza published recordings of the politician, dubbed the “Kaczynski tapes”, apparently discussing a major construction project involving a company with close ties to the PiS party.

The company in question, Srebrna, was founded in the mid-1990s by the Porozumienie Centrum (PC) party, a forerunner to the PiS. The company is majority-owned by the Lech Kaczyński Institute, which was founded to commemorate the Polish president who died in the 2010 Smoleńsk plane crash.

Srebrna’s board consists of Jarosław Kaczyński’s closest relatives, friends, and employees (including his drivers and a secretary). Srebrna’s assets consist mostly of land it obtained from a former communist-run companies, worth now hundreds of millions of zlotys.

Srebrna sponsors some of the hard-line right wing, pro-PiS media outlets, including Gazeta Polska Codziennie and niezależ

In one of the lots, Srebrna decided to build two skyscrapers (worth EUR 300 million). Jarosław Kaczyński signed off on the project. The Lech Kaczynski Institute was to move its headquarters to one of the towers and the remaining space was to be rented out. One-third of the annual revenue generated by the buildings would then go to the Institute, bringing high income to be invested in right-wing projects.

The project was supposed to be developed by Kaczyński’s cousin’s family, Austrian businessman Gerd Birgfellner. In the tapes, the PiS leader told the businessman that a construction permit will only be made available if his candidate Patryk Jaki wins the Warsaw mayoral election. He lost, and Birgfellner wasn’t paid.

The Austrian’s lawyer, a former deputy MP in the first PiS government who now has strong ties to the Civic Platform party (PO), has complained to the prosecutor’s office. “Our client was cheated,” Jacek Dubois, another Birgefellner’s lawyer, told reporters, adding, “Kaczyński misled our client. Family relations led to trust-based activities, and when it came to settlement, this trust was broken.”

The recordings also reported that a state-run Bank Pekao SA was to provide a EUR 300 million loan for the project. The bank was repolonized by PiS and now it looks like the reasoning behind the decision was to create a private bank for the ruling party’s benefit.

Apparently, the bank’s CEO supports other right-wing businesses and happily visits PiS HQ whenever is requested.

The opposition parties criticized Kaczyński for ambidexterity. The liberal Nowoczesna party denounced Kaczyński to the State Electoral Committee for illegal fundraising and to tax authorities for tax frauds.

According to the opposition, Kaczyński is using private companies to raise funds and finance party and right-wing media activities, amounting to millions of Polish zlotys.

PM Mateusz Morawiecki, also recorded not long time ago on the tapes, denies the recordings of Kaczyński and Birgfellner reveal any wrongdoing. “The conversation contains no shred of evidence to suggest PiS politicians did anything inappropriate, instead it testifies to honesty, authenticity, and fairness,” he said.

In 2002, Gazeta Wyborcza taped a bribery proposal, allegedly made in the name of the then ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). The resulting scandal was crucial in that party’s 2005 electoral defeat.

In 2014, several Donald Tusk’s officials were secretly recorded in several restaurants. Their vulgar language and insider comments helped tarnish PO’s reputation and were a major factor in the PiS’s 2015 victory.

The article was originally published in From Poland with Love, a monthly newsletter published by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Milosz Hodun