Polish Anti-Government Protest Leader Hit by Funding Scandal

  • Ruling party urges opposition to cut ties with protest group
  • Head of democracy movement used donations to pay his company

Poland’s ruling party called on the opposition to cut ties with an anti-government protest group after more than 90,000 zloty ($21,675) in donations from the organization was channeled to its leaders’ private company.

The news about the Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD), first reported by portal Onet.pl and newspaper Rzeczpospolita on Thursday, deals a blow to the opposition. The parties, staging an almost three-week-long parliamentary sit-in against what they’ve called “illegal” legislative practices by the ruling Law & Justice party, have had close ties with KOD’s chief, Mateusz Kijowski.

KOD has led dozens of anti-government demonstrations in the past year, calling on the authorities to stop undermining the constitutional division of powers, a factor also cited by S&P Global Ratings in Poland’s first-ever downgrade. As the row in parliament escalated last month, the European Union’s executive said the bloc’s biggest eastern member has “persistent” issues with maintaining the rule of law and gave the government two months to respond to recommendations on how to resolve the crisis.

“We hope that the opposition parties in parliament will be serious enough to cut themselves off from KOD, which has just made fools of all of its supporters,” said Ryszard Terlecki, the head of Law & Justice’s parliamentary caucus. “They’re having a tough start to the year.”

Highly Unfortunate

Separately, Kijowski told reporters in Warsaw that the way the funds were channeled to his company was “highly unfortunate,” but they reflected work done by the company for KOD and weren’t used for private purposes. He said the news was a provocation as group is set to pick new leadership in two months

KOD’s management board will carry out an external audit of the organization’s finances as soon as possible, deputy leader Radomir Szumelda told reporters in Warsaw.

“It’s a sharp turn, but we’ll aim to regain confidence,” Szumelda said. “My trust in Kijowski has been undermined.”

Lawmakers from the two biggest opposition groups have been taking turns occupying the main parliamentary hall over Christmas and New Year. They started the protest after an opposition member was excluded from a debate for holding up a “free media” sign opposing Law & Justice’s plans to curb journalists’ access to the legislature. The ruling party has partly backed out of the plans, although it has refused to let reporters into the main hall to film the sit-in.

The opposition has vowed continue the protest until Law & Justice repeats a group of votes made in an auxiliary chamber last month, including one on the 2017 budget. While the ruling party said it had to move the votes there because the main hall was blocked, opposition groups say the ballots were “illegal” in part because their representatives were unable to ask questions. The next parliamentary session is set to begin on Jan. 11.

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