On Monday afternoon, at a meeting marking the publication of a report, former PKP (Polish Railways) head Jakub Karnowski and entrepreneurs Piotr Osiecki and Przemyslaw Krych spoke about the investigations and repression that have befallen them in recent years at the hands of the Polish Prosecutor’s Office. They spoke not only of bogus charges, detentions prolonged to exert pressure on the detainee and propaganda lynchings on the TVP television network – the cases also involve extortion and the destruction of private companies by prosecutors loyal to the ruling party and by members of the special services.
The Osiecki case
Piotr Osiecki is the founder and former CEO of the Altus TFI investment fund. His case constitutes an offshoot of the so-called GetBack scandal, one of the biggest financial scandals of recent years, in which thousands of investors lost around PLN 2.7 billion. The company was said to have had links with the Law and Justice party, as indicated by the support it gave to pro-government media, among others. GetBack also bought a bundle of overdue debts from state-controlled commercial banks PKO BP and Alior. When GetBack got into financial trouble, it turned to Prime Minister Morawiecki for help, citing its pro-government activities and arguing that the company’s collapse would threaten the government’s image.
And this is where Piotr Osiecki appears; he was arrested in August 2018 on charges of allegedly exposing GetBack to substantial financial losses when Altus’ shares in EGB Investments were sold to him. “The prosecution charged him with acting against GetBack’s interest by selling EGB for an inflated price, despite Osiecki’s duty being to the shareholders of Altus and its clients, not to GetBack,” the report reads.
In November 2018, the District Court agreed to release Piotr Osiecki from custody for a record-setting bail of PLN 108 million (roughly EUR 24 million), higher than the alleged losses incurred by GetBack. Following an appeal filed by the prosecution, the businessman was detained again. He remained in custody despite having paid bail. After three months, he was again released from custody on PLN 110 million bail. And once again, after an appeal by the prosecution, he was arrested. Both rulings favourable to the prosecution were handed down by judges appointed by General Prosecutor Zbigniew Ziobro.
Finally, in April 2020, the Court of Appeal issued a final order to release Piotr Osiecki from custody on another bail, this time of PLN 30 million (EUR 6.5 million). It dismissed the charges against Osiecki in the GetBack case.
“The entire case seems to have been created to take responsibility away from the government and its leaders, covering the ties between GetBack and the ruling party. It is also a striking example of an attempt at corporate raidership in Poland, as directly after the public prosecution initiated its investigation into Osiecki, Altus started receiving extremely undervalued purchase offers from state-linked buyers,” the report explains.
“This practice of state extortion is well known in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet states,” Piotr Osiecki said on Monday. And he pointed out that, as a result of the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office and state institutions against him, the capitalisation of Altus TFI dropped from around PLN 1 billion to PLN 60 million. Osiecki spent a total of 16 months behind bars.
Krych and Karnowski
The report also describes the case of Przemyslaw Krych, founder and head of the real-estate fund Griffin Real Estate. On Monday, Krych recounted that his fund managed around EUR 5 billion in assets, mainly for US institutional investors. In 2017, he was arrested and faced charges related to alleged bribery involving Law and Justice Senator Stanisław Kogut and donations to Kogut’s Foundation for People with Disabilities.
Krych supported the Kogut Foundation for ten years. The CBA (Central Anti-Corruption Bureau) accused him of promising a bribe of PLN 1 million (partly in the form of a donation) for helping to acquire a plot of land in Kraków on which stands, among other things, the Cracovia hotel, and on which he wanted to build a shopping centre. The report reads that the donation was made by Echo Investment, a company linked to Krych, in which, however, he had no decision-making authority, and the hotel — despite the alleged bribe — was considered a historical monument. The mall was also not allowed to be built there by the land development plan.
Przemyslaw Krych spent a total of six months in custody. Among other things, he heard in court that he merely “plays at being a philanthropist”, although he had donated a total of PLN 16 million to charity. The report states that Krych allegedly received offers of help from the power camp, which he rejected, and that his arrest may have been related to gambles within the Law and Justice party aimed at weakening Senator Kogut’s position. He was eventually released after posting PLN 4 million bail.
Jakub Karnowski, in turn, is the former CEO of PKP Cargo, a Polish railway freight carrier. He is accused by the Prosecutor’s Office of irregularities in PKP Cargo’s purchase of the Czech rail freight operator AWT in 2015. The losses allegedly reached PLN 250 million. The charges were brought despite two expert reports, including one prepared by the consortium of PKO BP Brokerage House, EY, and the Weil Gotshal & Manges law firm, which concluded that the transaction was handled properly. The charges were amended this year. Karnowski denies them and claims that the case against him has a political aspect: it concerns the successful restructuring and sale of PKP Cargo on the stock exchange, as well as his co-operation with former Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz.
The entire report runs to almost 130 pages. It describes the stories of many more entrepreneurs, members of the judiciary and politicians who suffered repression by the Prosecutor’s Office under the leadership of Zbigniew Ziobro.
- ODF and Themis Report on the Activities of the Polish Public Prosecutor’s Office under the Rule of Zbigniew Ziobro (October 7, 2023)
In other media:
- Gazeta Wyborcza: Entrepreneurs, you are not powerless. You have a vote! (October 13, 2023)
- Money.pl: How Zbigniew Ziobro’s Public Prosecution Office “Broke Businessmen”. Report on Harassment (October 11, 2023)
- Rzeczpospolita: Cezary Szymanek: Public Prosecutor and Judge in Service of Party: How PiS Breaks Businessmen (October 11, 2023)