A minister in Donald Tusk’s last government currently jailed on corruption charges is to be freed in order to allow him to become an MEP.
Włodzimierz Karpiński was arrested in February for allegedly taking a bribe of over €1 million from a company bidding on a rubbish collection contract.
He was minister for state assets under Tusk, and subsequently head of Warsaw’s Waste Management Department. Poland’s anti-corruption agency CBA brought the bribery charges against him following an investigation.
Karpiński had stood in the 2019 European Parliament elections on the European Coalition list, but was not elected. He came fourth.
However, the MEP who was elected, Kryzysztof Hetman, has just won a seat in the Polish Sejm (national assembly), in Poland’s October election.
Hetman will step down from the European Parliament to take up the seat in the Polish legislature.
Riad Haidar came second, and would have taken up the seat when it became vacant, but he died this May.
Joanna Mucha came third, but was elected to the Polish Sejm alongside Hetman.
Karpiński, therefore, becomes the MEP. His attorney, Michał Królikowski, told Polish radio station RMF FM his client will accept the MEP seat.
Once he takes up the MEP seat, Karpiński will enjoy parliamentary immunity, permitting him to leave jail.
The European Parliament would need to agree on any future detention of him, while he is an MEP.
Zbigniew Ziobro, justice minister in the current PiS government, asked whether Karpiński was “now likely to vote in the interests of Poland or the majority in the European parliament that will guarantee him continued immunity”.
“This is a first in the history of the European parliament. What an embarrassment!” said Jerzy Polaczek, another PiS deputy.
Separately, four PiS MEPs are facing possible loss of their own parliamentary immunity, after a 7 November meeting of the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee.
Patryk Jaki, Beata Mazurek, Tomasz Poręba and Beata Kempa promoted or liked on social media a 2018 PiS election advertisement about illegal migrants coming to Europe.
With their parliamentary immunity lifted, they could each face legal proceedings in Poland for incitement to hatred.
If convicted, they could face jail sentences of three years, and be debarred from standing in future elections.
The legal action against the MEPs represents “an attack on the freedom of speech, gagging and censorship,” says Jaki.
Rafał Gaweł, founder of Poland’s Centre for Monitoring Racism and Xenophobia, had pressed for the incitement charges.
Gaweł, who was himself convicted in Polish courts for financial fraud in 2017, has been awarded temporary political asylum in Norway.