Corruption scandal electrifies Polish politics

On March 31, 2018, the head of Poland's financial regulatory body met with a billionaire banker to allegedly offer him institutional protection in exchange for about 9.2 million euros. Last week, the affair was exposed by the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Corruption scandal electrifies Polish politics - NewsMavens
Leszek Czarnecki and Marek Chrzanowski, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

The ruling Law and Justice (PIS) party came to power on the promise to fight corruption. “We may not be as worldy as the previous government, but at least we are not corrupt,” was the PiS message over the past three years.

Now, one of the top state officials appointed under their rule -- the director of the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF), Marek Chrzanowski -- has been accused of soliciting a multimillion bribe from banker Leszek Czarnecki. Chrzanowski is a protege of another key figure of the political scene -- Marek Glapiński, the director of the National Bank of Poland (NBP).

As soon as the scandal broke out, Chrzanowski resigned from his post and the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, ordered state agencies to investigate the case. Zbigniew Ziobro, the country’s justice minister and prosecutor-general, announced that he would oversee the probe himself.

But no matter how hard party officials may try to present Chrzanowski as a technocrat rather than a political figure, the damage has been done -- and PiS's reputation is not the only thing at stake here.

On the international level, the scandal could taint the image of Poland’s financial sector, which has been one of Europe’s most reliable over the past decade, withstanding even the hardships of the 2008 crisis.

Details from the story:

  • The affair surfaced last week, when the daily “Gazeta Wyborcza” published a report based on a stenographic record of the meeting between the two men, which took place over half a year ago in Warsaw.
  • They met to discuss the financial troubles which Czarnecki’s Getin Bank found itself in. The banker grew suspicious when Marek Chrzanowski invited him to a private meeting in his office, alone, so he showed up carrying three recording devices.
  • Chrzanowski began the conversation by suggesting that there are people in the Financial Supervision Authority who would like to see Getin Bank go bankrupt, then bought out for 1 zloty (25 cents) and nationalized. But, he carried on, this scenario can be averted if Czarnecki hired a lawyer, Grzegorz Kowalczyk (who later turned out to be Chrzanowski’s family friend), for a certain wage that would depend on the worth of the bank.
  • During the key moment of the meeting, Chrzanowski allegedly took out a piece of paper and wrote “1%” on it, to indicate how much the lawyer would earn. Czarnecki estimates 1% of his bank’s worth to be about 40 million zloty (9.2 million euros).
  • Writing is a method often used during corruption proposals as it cannot be audio recorded.
  • The Financial Supervision Authority (KNF) is the financial regulatory authority for Poland. It oversees banking, capital markets, insurance, pension scheme and electronic money institutions.
  • Over the past 30 years, Leszek Czarnecki earned the nickname of Poland’s Warren Buffet for making some of the best investments in the country. However, Buffet’s empire never suffered the kind of troubles Czarnecki’s banks are now facing. Getin Bank saw its ratings downgraded by Moody's twice in the past year, most recently in October.
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