On Thursday, at the request of the public prosecutor’s office, the court issued an arrest warrant for Bartosz Kramek, activist and husband of Lyudmyla Kozlovska, the head of the Open Dialogue Foundation who was expelled from Poland three years ago. What charges were brought against him? Making false statements in VAT invoices and money laundering.
According to Lyudmyla Kozlovska, her husband’s detention “is another instance of persecution against herself and her husband for their activity promoting democracy and an independent judiciary in Poland”.
The court that issued the decision to arrest Bartosz Kramek explained that his arrest would be revoked on payment of bail of PLN 300,000 by 8 July 2021.
“The public prosecutor lodged a statement of opposition to this. This means that Bartosz K. will remain in custody until the decision regarding his temporary arrest becomes legally binding. Alongside this, the prosecutor will immediately appeal the court’s decision regarding thise so-called conditional arrest,” the spokesperson for the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Lublin said in an interview with Wyborcza.
He added, “The court agreed with the prosecution’s argumentation that it is highly likely that Bartosz K. has indeed committed the crimes he is accused of. In addition, the court confirmed the prosecutor’s concerns, expressed in the request for temporary arrest, that the suspect – as long as he is at liberty – may obstruct justice by impacting on material evidence. Moreover, the court argued that the suspect may attempt to flee and fail to appear when summoned by the prosecutor.
Prosecution: VAT invoices issued for unspecified consultancy services
Bartosz Kramek was detained on Tuesday, 22 June in a hotel in Warsaw. The previous day, he had arrived in Warsaw from Brussels, where he currently resides.
Karol Blajerski, spokesperson for the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Lublin, has informed the media that charges that will be brought against Bartosz K. include making false statements regarding his company’s provision of consultancy services on 46 VAT invoices issued to 11 foreign companies in the total amount of around PLN 5.3 million, and concealing the criminal origin of these funds by transferring them to, among others, the Open Dialogue Foundation and other identified entities.
According to Blajerski, the charges involve acting for financial gain.
Information shared by the prosecutors suggests that in 2012–16, in his capacity as CEO of the Silk Road company, Kramek allegedly issued VAT invoices for unspecified services described as “consultancy services”, “IT services”, “VOIP services”. According to the Prosecutor’s Office in Lublin, his contractors included “only entities from so-called tax havens such as Belize or Seychelles, and entrepreneurs who are only faking economic activity and who have registered their businesses in virtual offices”.
The Lublin Prosecutor’s Office claims that “Silk Road did not actually provide services to these contractors and had no business relations with them”.
“The companies involved in this illegal practice had been incorporated by professional middlemen from Latvia and Estonia. The bank accounts of these companies were opened for example in Latvia, and the actual beneficiaries of their activity included citizens of Russia and Ukraine,” prosecutor Karol Blajerski said.
According to the prosecutors, funds obtained by Silk Road were allegedly transferred to the Open Dialogue Foundation.
According to prosecutors, Bartosz Kramek faces 10 years’ imprisonment for the alleged crimes.
The Open Dialogue Foundation: “In our view, this is another act of political persecution of the Foundation”
According to information obtained by Onet, Bartosz Kramek was detained in connection with an inquiry into Kozlovska’s foundation.
The Open Dialogue Foundation has commented on Kramek’s detention on its Twitter account. “In our view, this is another act of political persecution of the Foundation by institutions subordinated to the Law and Justice party,” the statement reads.
It continues, “Since 2017, for its criticism of the government, the Open Dialogue Foundation has been targeted by the authorities. The Internal Security Agency has been ‘investigating’ our finances since 2018. In addition, many other inquiries into our activity are pending. So far, all those that are now finished have been decided in our favour. This time will be no different. Our activity is legal. We won’t let anyone intimidate us.”
The Law and Justice state has targeted Lyudmyla Kozlovska, her husband and the Open Dialogue Foundation
The Open Dialogue Foundation headed by Lyudmyla Kozlovska was established in 2009. It is involved in defending human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the post-Soviet area. Prior to 2017, it had been best known for its activities in support of Ukraine: for example, it provided bulletproof vests and helmets to Ukrainians fighting the rebels in eastern Ukraine, it opened the centre known as “The Ukrainian World” in Warsaw, and it joined efforts to free Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian military pilot, from Russian jail.
Everything changed in July 2017, when during mass street protests against the new law on the Supreme Court enacted by the Polish parliament dominated by the Law and Justice party, Bartosz Kramek published an article entitled “Let the state stop: let’s switch the government off!” Referring to his experience from Ukrainian Euromaidan, Kramek recommended civil disobedience – from a general strike to the establishment of a tent city in front of Jarosław Kaczyński’s house.
Since then, both Kramek and the Open Dialogue Foundation have been public enemies in the eyes of the government and its supporters. The state has repeatedly tried to make the activists’ life difficult; for example, it initiated fiscal inspections and attempted to instal an external supervisor in the foundation.
Ultimately, the state targeted Lyudmyla Kozlovska, the foundation’s head and Kramek’s wife. The Internal Security Agency considered her “a threat to state security” and included her in the EU-wide list of individuals banned from entering the Schengen Area. Kozlovska only learned about this fact in August 2018, when she touched down in Brussels. Belgian officers sent her to Kyiv on the first available flight.
The government has failed to reveal the reason behind her name being included in the list and only suggested that certain irregularities regarding the foundation’s funding may be of significance. Former Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski accused Kozlovska of incitement to topple the Polish government. In addition, it was implied that she was working for Russia.
However, Europe’s capitals have quickly become convinced that the charges brought against Kozlovska are exaggerated, and the Polish government’s decision was a failure in terms of its reputational damage. First, Germany issued a visa to Kozlovska, allowing her to take part in a conference at the Bundestag devoted to populism in Central Europe. Next, Kozlovska visited Brussels (she spoke at the European Parliament), the United Kingdom (where she gave a speech at the House of Commons), France (where she visited the Council of Europe in Strasbourg) and Switzerland (where she attended a meeting at the UN Office in Geneva).
In March 2021, the Voivodship Administrative Court in Warsaw once again overruled the decision on the basis of which Lyudmyla Kozlovska was expelled from Poland.
According to this court, the Office for Foreigners had failed to compile sufficient evidence to ban Kozlovska from entering Poland. Moreover, the court instructed the Office to once again consider Kozlovska’s request to remove her name from the list of individuals banned from entering Poland.