It is a common knowledge: corruption scandals take down governments. How you deal with them is crucial for any party survival. Three years into government, PiS is facing challenges on multiple fronts.
Case 1: Military Equipment
On Monday a bombshell hits the Polish morning news: Bartłomiej M., a former advisor and protégé of the powerful ex-defence minister Antoni Macierewicz, is arrested. Arrested by the agents of the anti-corruption agency CBA, which has a long record of looking into the high political level corruption situations. Their agents will return in other stories below. For now let us just say that CBA is not fully politically independent. Hence an arrest of a highly affiliated M. is of great political significance.
The case is about a potential corruption in the Polish Armaments Group (Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa, PGZ). The details are unknown, except for the fact that 6 people were arrested and transported to a location in Tarnobrzeg in south-east Poland. As M., there are two others who are PiS affiliates: a former PiS MP Mariusz Antoni K. and a former PiS candidate in the European Parliament elections Agnieszka M.
PiS defensive reactions: “we can’t be accused to protect our own people” (Jacek Sasin), “if you break the law, there are consequences” (Mariusz Dworczyk), “Chairman Kaczyński has said there are no sacred cows” (Beata Mazurek).
PO is victorious: there were dozens of cases when the PO has informed the prosecution and the CBA, but “for three years there was a protective umbrella in the PiS” (Arkadiusz Myrcha) and “politically responsible is Antoni Macierewicz” (Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska) – probably most will agree with her, raging from the opposition to the close affiliated with the Law and Justice. Michał Szczerba, a popular PO MP from Warsaw: “Marek Ch., Bartłomiej M., … what connects them all? Political patronage and IMPUNITY. Impunity has been provided by the state of PiS. Subordinated police, forces, prosecution, KRS [National Council of Judiciary], court presidents and the TVPiS [nickname for the public television TVP]. In this election PiS is not fighting for keeping power. It fights for its own freedom.”
Early follow up suggests that the corruption could have taken place during the Antoni Macierewicz time in the Defence Ministry. Macierewicz is PiS’ vice-leader and main link to the Tadeusz Rydzyk’s media empire (Radio Maryja, among other).
Case 2: Mining Conglomerate
KGHM is one of the largest Polish companies. It is world’s leading mining company of copper and silver. It keeps its operations in Canada, South America and Europe.
Monday morning, 6 am. Gazeta Wyborcza is out and their main story today reads: “Scandal in KGHM. PiS vice-chairman’s godson manipulates tenders. The person reporting the abuse fired”. The PiS vice-chair concerned is Adam Lipiński. Lipiński has overseen the “colonisation” of KGHM with PiS affiliates already in 2015, according to Gazeta Wyborcza. Among the people employed without proper qualifications is Karol Kos, Lipiński’s godson. Internal verification system in KGHM has noticed illegal activities in mid-2018. The issue concerned economic purchases of a value of 3,2 million zł (750,000 Euro). The prosecution should, bus was not informed, about the irregularities. By the time the internal investigation reaches the KGHM CEO, there is a new KGHM CEO altogether. The new CEO is another Lipiński affiliate and the person who attempted to deliver the information to the new CEO is… fired. If you read Polish, the whole story is here.
KGHM response to the morning news is very corporate: everything is fine, we are interested in solving the issue, we did not lose any money, we did not know about the case, there are 34,000 employees in the conglomerate…
KGHM CEO could be right. It seems there are many problems in the company. Only 11 days ago the CBA has arrested six people who were breaking the rules; their “work” costed KGHM some 4 million zł (about 1 million Euro).
Niezalezna, a right-wing newspaper, double-checked the Gazeta Wyborcza information. Their one fact-check is worth citing: most likely the person who delivered the news to the KGHM CEO (or attempted to) was not fired, but his contract was not renewed.
PO is triumphant: “just today’s news related to the scandals […] I would like to ask chairman Kaczyński and PiS: how’s your modest life going” (cynical as usual Sławomir Nitras) and “this power wobbles under the pressure of greed” (Marcin Kierwiński).
Case 3: The Drugs Set-Up
Also today another important development in another corruption scandal. Awhile back the newspapers informed that there were problems – even of criminal nature – with fixing the price of certain drugs. This included the reimbursement producers received from the state. On one occasion the health vice-minister Marcin Czech was asking a company to raise their demands from the state budget…
Today the prime minister accepted vice-minister Marcin Czech’s request to be dismissed “due to health reasons”. The newspapers are jubilant, especially the popular daily Fakt: “Following Fakt’s publications, will the minister head roll?”.
Asked about all three scandals today, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska (former speaker of the Sejm, PO) concluded soberly in Radio Tok FM on Monday: “There is a lot of work on the PiS activity for the law enforcement agencies to look into“.
Case 4: The Mother of All Scandals
With M. arrest there is a problem for the hawks flank of Law and Justice led by Antoni Macierewicz. The commentators speculate if this brings Macierewicz into line with Kaczyński, or rather push him out of the party. The former is probably the case today and the M. case is the most visible for the upcoming days… unless the following announcement materialises: Tomasz Lis (a popular liberal journalist) wrote that tomorrow is the day PiS will be shaken to its core: “29 January 2019 will be one of the most important days in the 18-years long history of PiS. And for sure, the most true.”
29 stycznia 2019 – to będzie jeden z najważniejszych dni w osiemnastoletniej historii PIS. A z całą pewnością najprawdziwszy.
— Tomasz Lis (@lis_tomasz) January 28, 2019
What can it be? In order to be ahead of the curve – Gazeta Wyborcza is online as of 6 a.m. this post is published at 5 a.m. I shall follow up with the next developments.
Meanwhile, my today’s 4th case are the old banking problems, which resurfaced just a few days ago. Back in November, Marek Chrzanowski, head of the Financial Supervision Authority (Komisja Nadzoru Finansowego, KNF) is arrested. He was recorded as saying to be willing to help a banker out if his affiliate is employed in one of the banks the banker owns. The wider context included a PiS-inspired changes in banking legislation and the state supervision. Chrzanowski eventually was fired and arrested. He left the arrest this past Saturday.
The KNF story was an important development as it illustrated for the first time how an exposure to money has a power to corrupt the young and inexperienced PiS people. The PiS vulnerability was shown in plain sight. Chrzanowski was 35 when he was appointed head of the institution supervising the financial sector. Clearly he proved to be greedy for power, influence and money. Adam Glapiński is the head of the central bank NBP and Chrzanowski’s political patron. He defended Chrzanowski publicly in November. In January Chrzanowski talked to the prosecution. Gazeta Wyborcza and other media (i.e. the conservative Nczas.com) report: Chrzanowski says his meeting with the banker was inspired by… Glapiński!
A public relations disaster earlier in January certainly does not help the head of the central bank. It became a public knowledge that certain NBP employees make about 15,000 Euro a month (head of the communication and promotion department). The criticism came not only from the opposition. Equally outraged were certain PiS politicians, like Jan Maria Jackowski, the PiS Senator, who sent a public letter to the NBP head. In order to calm down the waters PiS put forward a new piece of legislation on the transparency of remuneration of people who work for the central bank.
A new opinion poll came out today. PiS is down 4%. Not much, and I would not read too much into it. Clearly the murder of mayor Adamowicz and the subsequent debate on the hate speech is reflected in the poll. This new outbreak of scandals and accumulation of problems puts the party further in a defence.
The defence it may well survive. PiS is a one man show: Jarosław Kaczyński. Everybody else’s fate depends on the chairman’s will. Lipiński and Macierewicz scandals shake things substantially, but they do not break the PiS core. The biggest challenge for PiS is to protect its image of a “clean” party. Last time the chairman faced a problem of similar proportion he was able to shake off the then-scandal with a single move. Following PO’s successful campaign showing the high dividends the PiS ministers have awarded themselves (Szydło government), PiS proposed to lower the salaries of all the MPs. Not everybody liked the move (Kaczyński is single, childless with no mortgage), also among the Law and Justice MPs. Yet they complied with the chairman’s will. The party popularity survived. Will it be the same this time?
The second pillar of PiS domestic popularity is the party softer faces of prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and president Andrzej Duda. Duda’s currently sidelined; his re-election is only due in 2020, hence the potential scandals against the head of state are not as important for the party today. If the next big thing is against the prime minister – this would shake the party more. What would be the way out of the crisis? It is for the chairman to deal with the situation, but the party would survive. Morawiecki is skilful enough with the international business to allow for the economy to grow (just recently he copycatted Macron and met with CEOs of Google and Apple, for example), so there is definitely an important added value for the government. With him gone some of the PiS economic charm would probably go.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.
Lord Acton (1887)
Unless the next big thing hits some other place. Stay tuned.