Detention of Authorities Critic in Poland Raises Fears of a Crackdown

A prominent lawyer and outspoken critic of the Polish government was arrested on Thursday on money laundering charges and later taken to hospital after falling under unclear circumstances. He expressed concern that the government was stepping up its efforts to quell disagreement.

Lawyer Roman Giertych, who was involved in a number of high profile cases against members of the ruling Law and Justice Party, was handcuffed by a special anti-corruption department before a Warsaw court. He has also represented prominent opposition figures, including Donald Tusk, former President of the European Council.

Later, during a search of his home, Mr. Giertych was taken unconscious on his bathroom floor and taken to the hospital. Further details of the incident were not immediately available from authorities, but his daughter Maria Giertych said he was wrestling with an officer.

Stanislaw Zaryn, a spokesman for the authorities, said late Thursday that Mr. Giertych was in “good condition” and was undergoing medical examinations. But Jacek Dubois, a lawyer who worked with Mr. Giertych, disagreed with this assessment, saying he had been told by the family that Mr. Giertych’s condition was “very serious”.

The authorities denied the allegations that the detention was politically motivated.

A government spokesman, Piotr Müller, said he was unfamiliar with the details of the case. But he added, “I understand that the anti-corruption services had grounds for imprisonment.”

Mr. Giertych was expected to be accused of “appropriating corporate funds and causing them large-scale financial losses and money laundering,” said Anna Marszalek, a prosecutor’s spokeswoman.

The Polish Bar Council expressed “greatest concern” about the detention.

“Regardless of the reasons for Roman Giertych’s detention and for the search of his house, these measures are exceptional given his professional involvement in cases involving politicians from the ruling party,” the Council chairman said in a statement.

In recent years, Mr. Giertych has become one of the most vocal critics of the Polish government, specifically addressing changes to the judiciary enforced by Law and Justice and its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The actions were condemned by international observers and were at the center of tensions between Poland and the European Union, which see the changes as a threat to the rule of law and the bloc’s democratic values.

Mr Kaczynski, who has also tried to quell a rebellion in his ruling coalition as he is increasingly angry in public about the government’s handling of the coronavirus, took up a new post as Deputy Prime Minister this month. The position gives him authority over the nation’s security apparatus, and some observers fear he is using that power to appeal to critics.

Few of the government’s critics have been as vocal as Mr Giertych. Most recently, he accused of poorly managing the pandemic and wrote on Twitter that there was “blood on their hands”.

Poland reported a record number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations this week. There are growing concerns that the country’s health system will be overwhelmed and government critics say it hasn’t done enough to prepare for the current second wave of the virus.

Mr. Giertych has also been involved in cases that threatened to affect the business of senior government officials.

Mr Dubois, who worked with Mr Giertych on the case of Leszek Czarnecki, a high-profile businessman who is at odds with right and justice, said the timing of the detention was no accident.

“Mr. Giertych told me last week that he had received documents that discredit key members of the government,” Dubois said in an interview. “They wanted to eliminate him the day before the trial of Mr. Czarnecki.”

Mr Czarnecki was a central figure in a 2018 corruption scandal when he accused a government financial regulator of seeking bribes.

Adam Bodnar, Poland’s official ombudsman, said the nature of the arrest “raised the greatest concern and required explanations”. He declined to comment on the merits of the case, but said he wanted to know “what circumstances justify this approach”.

Mr Giertych’s wife, Barbara, who is also a lawyer, said she had received little information about her husband’s detention.

“For the first time in my life, in my professional career, I have a situation in which I do not know the context in which the detention is taking place,” she told TVN 24, a local media company.

Anatol Magdziarz contributed to the reporting.

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