The Deputy Minister of the Interior lost the defamation case in court. What does a hearing look like, during which a representative of the government can’t count on the judge’s favour? We play it from the minutes and recordings.
The Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) and its leadership accused Minister Wąsik of violating personal rights, because he accused them of, among others, public relations with Russia, and money laundering. After three years of trial, the minister lost. According to the judgment, he is to apologize for a week to ODF, Bartosz Kramek and Lyudmyla Kozlovska on the websites of TVP Info, TV Republika, wPolsce.pl. In addition, he is to pay each of the complainants PLN 10,000 with high interest.
The verdict is non-final.
The verdict was already issued on 29 June 2022, but the ODF revealed it only after receiving the minutes of the trial. Minister Wąsik has not yet mentioned the outcome of the trial publicly.
During the final hearing, Paweł Duda, judge of the District Court in Warsaw, read out the content of the apology, which, within 14 days from the finalisation of the judgment, is to be published by the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration.
“I, Maciej Wąsik, hereby apologize to Mrs. Lyudmyla Kozlovska and Mr. Bartosz Kramek for violating their personal rights in the form of good name, as well as to ODF (…) for violating personal rights in the form of reputation and good reputation by disseminating harmful and false information in TVP Info. I point out that my statement contained false information regarding ODF’s sources of funding, its Russian ties, and its call for subversion and bloodshed among Poles, thereby putting Ms. Ludmila Kozlovskaya, Mr. Bartosz Kramek, in an unfavorable light. The statement appears as a result of a lost lawsuit.”
The statement of this content, in A4 format, written in bold, on a white background, is to be printed, signed by the minister and displayed for 7 days at the top of the main TVP Info website. Similar apologies are also to be published on the websites of wPolsce.pl and TV Republika. Wąsik is also to pay PLN 10,000 in compensation to each of the applicants, together with interest from 26 June 2020 to the date of payment, and pay the costs of the proceedings – over PLN 2.5 thousand.
How the court resolved the problem
In the oral justification, Judge Duda explained that he did not find any grounds to claim that the ODF had Russian connections, that it was taking hybrid actions aimed at destabilizing the Polish state or harming the interests of the state, that the foundation was involved in money laundering, or that Bartosz Kramek was calling for bloodshed and the overthrow of the Polish government.
“There is no doubt that the statements in TVP Info, in Poland and TV Republika (…) contained content that was detrimental to the good name of the plaintiffs” added the judge.
Bartosz Kramek – Chairman of the ODF’s Supervisory Board is satisfied with the verdict. “Both the content of the apology and the reparations are almost exactly what we expected. As the court noted, the minister used slander in the political interest of his own party.”
We wanted to ask for comments on the verdict of Deputy Minister Wąsik, but none of our calls to the Press Department of the Ministry of Interior and Administration were answered. We have also not received a response to the request for a comment sent by email.
“We were persecuted, defamed, threatened”
The ODF vs. Wąsik court case has been pending for three years, but its roots go much deeper.
In mid-2017, when the Law and Justice (PiS) pushed through the Sejm laws politicising courts, and the largest demonstrations overflowing through the country for decades, Bartosz Kramek published his famous manifesto “Let the state stand: let’s shut down the government!”. Very critical of the government.
The ODF, with which PiS deputies and President Andrzej Duda cooperated in matters such as Ukraine until recently, suffered an avalanche of controls and proceedings. With no effect. A year later, the Law and Justice government expelled from the country, and even tried to expel from the EU, the president of the ODF and Kramek’s wife, Lyudmyla Kozlovska – a Ukrainian living in Poland for years. Then and in the following year, politicians and propagandists of the Law and Justice Party attacked the Foundation in the media many times. This was done, among others, by Maciej Wąsik – then a Member of the Law and Justice party, deputy coordinator of secret services, and since the second half of 2019, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior and Administration.
In October 2019, the ODF and its management filed a lawsuit against Wąsik for violation of personal rights, claiming PLN 30,000 in damages.
The Foundation claimed that Wąsik, in at least five of his statements, violated their personal rights in passing with the truth – he claimed/suggested that the Foundation “called for a forceful overthrow of the government”, conducts “Russian hybrid activities, is financed from the money of the Russian armaments industry, links with Russian services” (more broadly, these quotations are described by the ODF from page 9 of this document)
The activists’ marriage said that the publications with Wąsik’s statements had a big impact on their lives. “We were persecuted, vilified, we were victims of hate and threats,” recalls Lyudmyla Kozlovska. After the attacks of Wąsik and other supporters and members of the Law and Justice party, ODF collaborators and donors feared political persecution and resigned from cooperation. “The defendant or Mr. [minister] Kamiński launched the entire state apparatus against us, in order to harm us,” added Kramek.
In this trial, several hearings were held, of which the one on 10 February attracted the greatest attention – Maciej Wąsik testified at it. From the protocol and recordings, OKO.press quotes the most interesting fragments. In them, the minister explains that the situations he was describing were his “opinion” based on “general knowledge”, hiding behind forgetfulness and citing publications that were written long… after his statements.
At the top – online meeting screenshot. From the left and from the top: Lyudmyla Kozlovska, judge Paweł Duda, Bartosz Kramek and his attorney Dawid Biernat and Minister Maciej Wąsik with a proxy
“General knowledge” in court
In his opening statement, Minister Wąsik claimed that his statements were opinions. “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” he assured. In his speech, he broadly quoted Kramek’s famous manifesto from 2017 and his tweets.
Judge Duda asked:
What did he mean by financing the ODF by persons affiliated with the Russian Federation?
Mąsik explained that it is about Lyudmyla’s brother Piotr Kozlovsky, who sells lighting in Crimea, also to the army. “In Russia, no one is accidentally allowed to deliver to the Russian army. It must be a person affiliated with the service. This is my general knowledge. ”
Court: “You used the wording that the financing comes from companies that produce weapons in Crimea or Scottish companies that are a shell. Which company produces weapons?”
Wąsik: “This is perhaps an imprecise statement. I was referring to the company that supplies various materials to the forces of the Russian Federation. ” He added that it was about Kozlovsky’s company.
The minister also spoke about Scottish “shell companies”, registered in tax havens, with unknown owners who were to finance the ODF. He claims that they were related to the “Panama Papers scandal”. The court asks him what connections these companies had to the Panama Papers?
Wąsik: “I don’t know anything closer about that.”
On the ban on Lyudmyla Kozlovska’s stay in Poland, Wąsik said in the media in 2019 that the reason for this was the “non-transparency of the organization’s financing”. Court: “How did you know and what this lack of transparency was supposed to consist in, that it posed a threat to the security of Poland?”
Wąsik: “I knew that there were arrangements that said that the Foundation was financed by non-transparent companies, this was the main reason that indirect financing is non-transparent. I knew there was a request from Internal Security Agency regarding the defendant. I was the deputy coordinator of the secret services and had the opportunity to have such knowledge. “
“I didn’t know”, “I don’t remember”, “I wanted to correct it”
Questions were also asked by ODF attorney Dawid Biernat, and then the marriage of activists.
Attorney: “What is the anti-European action of the ODF?”
Wąsik: “Poland is an EU country, if someone threatens us, it threatens the EU (…). If the ODF supports the undemocratic [way of changing power – ed.] calling for the non-payment of taxes by Mr. Kramek’s manifesto, it is an attack on Poland, it is a destabilization of the state, one of the EU members. And this is automatically an attack on the Union.”
Attorney: “Where did you get information about companies from Scotland?”
Wąsik: “I don’t remember.”
After a long break, for technical reasons, he recalls when he learned about Scottish companies registered in tax havens. He quotes the interview that Kramek gave to the weekly “Polityka”. “Some companies were registered in tax havens. For entrepreneurs from the East, it is a matter of security, protection of assets,” said the chairman of the ODF board in “Polityka”, but in mid 2021 – two years after Wąsik’s statements, which are the cause of action.
Finally, the minister admitted at the hearing: “Until the time of the interview [of Kramek in “Polityka” – ed.] I did not know who was behind these companies.”
Attorney: You used the phrase “dirty money”. Did you determine where they came from?”
Wąsik: “I only talked about money laundering today. Not before.” And he explains that it was the prosecutor who accused Kramek [in mid 2021 – ed.] of money laundering, which is why he is now talking about it.
The lawyer quoted Wąsik’s statement of 25 April 2019 in TV Republika regarding ODF: “used dirty money, acted in a non-transparent way”. So, how did he make such accusations two years before the charges were filed?
Wąsik: “This is a certain inference – if the transactions are non-transparent.”
How was the financing of “Silk Road” – owned by Kramek – supposed to threaten the security of Poland and the EU?
According to Wąsik, Kramek’s manifesto calls for “at least riots in Poland, and where are riots is also bloodshed” and this is the threat.
The minister said earlier that it was the services of western countries that informed Poland about the activities of the ODF.
Kramek: “What services?”
Wąsik: “No services of Western countries. Internal Security Agency only.”
Attorney: “You said it, it was recorded”
Wąsik: “I wanted to rectify it. Not Western services, but services”.
He adds that other countries besides Moldova provided such information. “I can’t tell which.”
Kramek: “Are you familiar with any pro-Russian activities of the ODF?”
Wąsik: “Any change in the power [in the EU countries – ed.], and Bartosz Kramek called for it, is in the interest of Russia”
Kramek: “You referred to the outcome of the tax audit as a source of knowledge in terms of your statements from 2018 and 2019. Do you know when such an initial inspection protocol appeared?”
Wąsik: “I don’t remember”
Kramek: “In 2020”
Wąsik: “It’s possible. Therefore, I received information during the inspections carried out.”
Kramek: “Was the company “Majak” (owned by Lyudmyla Kozlovska’s brother – Piotr – ed.) an armaments company?”
Wąsik: “According to the media – yes. It produced lighting for warships”
Kramek: “To your knowledge, did any state authorities responsible for state security have reservations about the ODF before July 2017?” (then Kramek’s manifesto was published – ed.)
Wąsik: “I don’t have that knowledge”
20 trials against Law and Justice party members/acolytes
Similar civil trials were brought by the ODF to a total of 20 politicians/people of PiS, propagandists and institutions that were supposed to “defame” the Foundation.
Jacek Karnowski (including the wPolityce.pl website),
Tomasz Sakiewicz (editor-in-chief of “Gazeta Polska”),
TVP and Polish Radio.
Two trials against Sakiewicz have already been concluded with judgments beneficial to the ODF leadership.
In one of the cases, concerning the cover of “Gazeta Polska”, depicting Kramek as a soldier of the Wehrmacht breaking the Polish border barrier – the court determined PLN 15,000 compensation + PLN 10,000 for the Women’s Rights Center and an apology on the cover of the GP.
In the second case, in which the judgment was already handed down in 2019, the court determined PLN 10,000 of compensation from GP and an apology in a weekly magazine and on gazetapolska.pl.
Both verdicts are not final. Cases went on appeal.
40 publications of the state media
In addition, as part of securing in lawsuits filed by TVP and Polish Radio, the court obliged these media to remove articles about the ODF and/or publish statements of this NGO.
The lawsuit brought by the ODF against TVP and TVP Info concerns almost 40 publications. Public television was sued for PLN 200,000 for “defamation regarding arms trafficking, Russian financing, possession of Russian passports, relations with Russian secret services, money laundering, financing by the oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, Ukraine’s treason and planning a coup.”
Despite three favourable decisions in administrative courts, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, expelled by the Law and Justice services from the country, still cannot enter Poland. In mid-2021, the Provincial Administrative Court issued its fourth ruling, this time upholding the ban on entry into Poland.
The entire judiciary, which made this decision, consists of neo-judges from the recruitment of the Law and Justice.
Kozlovska has been in Brussels since 2018. For almost half a year, she was also unable to meet her husband. In June the prosecution arrested Kramek, accusing him of “money laundering” and “misrepresentation”. It also imposed on him a ban against leaving the country, and after the September border wire-cutting operation – Kramek took part in it – also police supervision five times a week.
“The prosecutor conducting the case admitted that it was the Attorney General Zbigniew Ziobro who personally issued the order on the tightening of preventive measures against me,” Kramek reports on the situation from the trial.
Only after months of struggle, in October 2021, the court overturned these actions of the prosecution, and the married couple could finally meet.
During the last ODF hearing with Wąsik, the latter quoted Kramek’s tweets about himself with indignation: “He called me a criminal! And they sue me and hate me. This is hypocrisy!”, he commented.
Kramek responded to TT: “I am still waiting for Wąsik’s lawsuit.”
Commenting on the verdict, the Chairman of the ODF’s Board added that Wąsik is also responsible for illegal wiretapping and inhumane treatment of refugees at the border with Belarus. “It is their blood that he has on his hands and for that he should be held criminally responsible”, he concludes.