Poland’s former deputy foreign minister, Piotr Wawrzyk, has been arrested in connection with a visa fraud scandal, as announced by the country’s central anti-corruption bureau on Wednesday. The scandal had a significant impact on the previous right-wing administration and contributed to the electoral victory of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s coalition in October.
Widening the gap
The detention of Wawrzyk is expected to widen the gap between Prime Minister Tusk and opposition politicians from the former Law and Justice (PiS) administration. The latter argues that Tusk is engaging in a political witch-hunt against PiS. Tusk has asserted that the shift to a more liberal, pro-EU stance in Poland requires addressing senior PiS officials suspected of various crimes during their eight-year governance, ranging from fraud and embezzlement to unconstitutional abuses of power.
Following the revelation of the visa scandal in September, Wawrzyk was dismissed by the PiS government, which subsequently initiated an investigation into an alleged network involving foreign ministry officials selling Polish visas for cash through consulates worldwide.
While immediate results from the investigation were not obtained, Tusk effectively used the scandal to challenge the PiS government’s claims of defending Poland against illegal immigration, a key election issue. Wawrzyk denied any wrongdoing on Wednesday.
However, Tusk’s campaign to expose abuses by PiS loyalists and remove them faces resistance from President Andrzej Duda, nominated by PiS, who has wielded veto powers against the prime minister. On Wednesday, Duda escalated a dispute over the national prosecutor’s fate, asking the constitutional court to determine whether the president or the government had the authority to dismiss him.
The Polish president, aiming to protect prosecutor Dariusz Barski, has called it an “illegal attempt to remove him,” while Tusk’s justice minister, Adam Bodnar, has rejected this claim and appointed a new acting national prosecutor, Jacek Bilewicz.
Duda has also demanded the release of two convicted PiS lawmakers who went to prison last week and have been on hunger strike. Their case tests Duda’s presidential powers, as he contends they should have been protected under a 2015 pardon he granted them.
Wawrzyk’s arrest aligns with Tusk’s efforts to revisit overlooked cases from the previous government and launch new investigations into past wrongdoings since assuming office in December. Tusk expressed concerns about discovering “grey and black areas of activity and the financial greed that ruled Poland until recently” earlier this month.