11th Dec 2023

The Polish MEP coming to Brussels directly from prison

  • Wlodzimierz Karpinski, former Polish minister of state treasury, has been released from jail to become an MEP (Photo: Piotr Maciążek)
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In an unprecedented move, a new Polish MEP will come to Brussels directly from a prison cell — after his colleague MEP Krzysztof Hetman left for Poland's lower chamber Sejm.

Włodzimierz Karpiński, a former treasury minister under Donald Tusk's previous Civic Coalition government, has been in detention for over eight months.

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But he was released on Thursday (16 November) to take up his seat in the European Parliament, his lawyer told EUobserver.

This will "put an end to the absurd, unjustified and devastating arrest" of Karpiński, his sons explained in an open letter to Polish media.

Karpiński was detained last February, suspected of accepting a PLN five million (€1.2m) bribe from a waste company operating in the capital when he was a secretary in the Warsaw City Hall.

In an interview with EUobserver, his advocate Michał Królikowski explained that a request for Karpiński's release from prison was rejected by the prosecution on two occasions.

He also said that another trial is planned for Monday (20 November) which may still prolong his detention again.

Karpiński has been under temporary arrest for over 250 days. "During this time the prosecutor has questioned him three times, once at his request. The interrogations lasted a total of about 10 hours. 10 hours versus more than 6,000 hours spent in a cell," the sons emphasised.

"The charges against my client were brought on very poor evidence. The detention is unjust, excessively long and unwarranted," Karpiński's lawyer added.

When asked for a comment on the start of the mandate of the new MEP, the European Parliament said that those criteria depend on national law.

"The election [and] the appointment of the replacement Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) is solely in the hands of the competent national authorities," an official told EUobserver.

When Królikowski informed the previous Polish Sejm speaker, Elżbieta Witek of the outgoing Law and Justice party, about the intention of his client to become a MEP, she simply ignored this declaration and didn't issue a decision.

Neither did she inform the prosecutor about it, so the conditions of releasing Karpiński to let him become MEP were not met.

Karpinski has become "a victim of the Polish judicial system, which has not charged him, he is still innocent, that's why should have the right to accept the MEP mandate and then have immunity waived to be able to testify in front of the court," Socialist & Democrats MEP Bogusław Liberadzki told EUobserver.

This week the new Polish parliament was sworn in and the new Sejm speaker, Szymon Hołownia from Polska2050 (Renew Europe), signed documents informing Karpiński and two other Polish politicians they could take up their seats in the EU parliament.

This comes after three current Polish MEPs went the other way, taking their mandates at the parliament in Warsaw.

But Hołownia's move has been met with howls of opposition from PiS lawmakers.

"This decision casts a shadow over Hołownia and exposes his true political intentions…cementing the old system, including the one associated with the Civic Platform, by ensuring impunity for those facing serious corruption charges," said Law and Justice spokesman Rafał Bochenek.

On Thursday, the new Sejm speaker's declaration to the national prosecutor's office formally revoked Karpiński's arrest.

Catalan comparison

The European authorities have been very guarded with their statements about the Polish 'MEP in prison' case, since a previous decision made in relation to the case of Spanish Catalan politician, Oriol Junqueras, proved to be hasty and led to a major row with Madrid.

In 2019, the European Court of Justice had ruled that the imprisoned Catalan politician, once elected as an MEP, was entitled to immunity, and allowed to travel to a swearing-in ceremony at the Spanish parliament.

But the cause of imprisonment for the Polish politician is related to a criminal offence, Genowefa Grabowska, a law professor and former socialist MEP, told EUobsever.

Grabowska argues accepting Karpiński as an MEP will be "a shame" — which could cause "yet another corrupting blemish on the reputation of the European Parliament, such as letting back Eva Kaili take her MEP's duties".

According to Grabowska, it would be much better if Civic Platform proposed another "less controversial politician".

Karpiński's lawyer told EUobserver, however, that his client "remains firmly convinced of his innocence".

Once released from custody thanks to his MEP's immunity, he will not avoid investigators, the lawyer also said.

"The only thing that will change is that he will finally testify free of charge, as should have been the case since the beginning of the process," Karpiński's lawyer said.

In October's parliamentary elections in Poland, the PiS won the largest support, but even with the far-right Confederation, it is unlikely to form a governing coalition.

The new government in Poland is expected to be formed by so-called "democratic opposition" — encompassing Tusk's Civic Coalition, the liberal Third Way party and the New Left party.

Author bio

Dorota Bawołek has been an EU affairs correspondent in Brussels since 2008. She presents a weekly show Onet Europa for the Polish news website Onet, and runs the EU-news podcast Stacja Bruksela.


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