Polish judge at heart of spy scandal loses immunity

By Thomson Reuters May 9, 2024 | 9:57 AM

WARSAW (Reuters) – A Polish judge with access to military secrets, who asked for asylum in Belarus, looked set to face espionage charges on Thursday, after a Polish court said it was lifting his immunity.

Judge Tomasz Szmydt’s defection to a key ally of Moscow threw Warsaw’s place as a key target for Russian intelligence activity into sharp focus, while opposing lawmakers have traded blame over who allowed his ascent to the upper echelons of the Polish justice system.

“The Supreme Administrative Court – Disciplinary Court of the first instance … adopted a resolution allowing Judge Szmydt to be held criminally liable, authorised his detention and pre-trial detention and suspended the indicated judge from his official duties,” spokesperson Sylwester Marciniak told state news agency PAP.

Justice Minister Adam Bodnar had earlier said that the removal of Szmydt’s immunity would allow an arrest warrant and a note to Interpol to be issued, limiting his movements, but acknowledged that Polish services would not be able to arrest him in Belarus.

Szmydt has denied the spying allegations, saying he has not broken any Polish or European laws.

Since arriving in Belarus Szmydt has been interviewed on Russian and Belarusian state television and has claimed that he was forced to flee political persecution in Poland at the hands of a government that is under the sway of the United States and intent on starting a conflict with Moscow and Minsk.

Polish officials have dismissed such claims as absurd propaganda that add weight to accusations he was working for foreign intelligence.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from Poland’s pro-European coalition government and the previous nationalist Law and Justice (PiS)administration traded blows over who was responsible for letting a man they believe to be a Belarusian agent become a high-ranking judge, without security services unmasking him.

“We are dealing with the mysterious story of a person who in a short space of time made staggering career advances in the Polish justice system thanks to the support and engagement of Law and Justice politicians,” Deputy Justice Minister Arkadiusz Myrcha told parliament.

Former Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said on social media platform X that the current government was “afraid of the facts” and that Szmydt had been promoted three times before PiS came to power.

The judge first came to public attention in Poland for his part in a trolling scandal which led to the resignation of a deputy justice minister in 2019.

He was part of a group accused of seeking to discredit judges critical of the PiS government’s judicial reforms by planting media rumours about their private lives.

He appeared in a television documentary in 2022 in which he revealed details about his participation in the group.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Sharon Singleton)