Polish prosecutors sequester Justice Ministry computers involved in judge trolling scandal

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-29 00:25:37|Editor: yan
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WARSAW, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- Prosecutors have sequestered computers at Poland's Justice Ministry after two of its high-ranking employees had left their posts following accusations they were involved in a coordinated effort to smear judges critical of the government's reforms.

The Warsaw District Prosecutor's Office confirmed on Wednesday that they had sequestered computers at the ministry, including those of former Deputy Justice Minister Lukasz Piebiak and Jakub Iwaniek, another high-ranking official, both of whom had left their posts after accusations they were involved in a trolling scandal that surfaced last week.

The prosecutors refused to give more information about the ongoing investigation, which they opened after an opposition politician filed a complaint.

Last week, a series of articles published by the online portal onet.pl included information indicating that Piebiak and Iwaniek were allegedly coordinating efforts to smear several judges critical of the justice reforms implemented by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, including Judge Krystian Markiewicz, the head of the Polish Judges' Association Iustitia, and Malgorzata Gersdorf, first president of the Supreme Court.

According to screenshots of Whatsapp conversations published by the portal, the two Justice Ministry officials allegedly provided personal information of judges critical of the government to a woman, Emilia Szmidt, who then coordinated online and offline smear campaigns against the judges.

Both the Supreme Court head and Iustitia, the biggest judges' association in Poland, have criticised the justice reforms implemented by PiS since coming to power in 2015. The reforms have led the European Commission to open three separate infringement procedures against Poland and triggered Article 7 procedures, which can theoretically lead to suspending Poland's voting rights in the European Council.

On Monday, protesters in several Polish cities have asked for the resignation of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, whom they consider politically responsible for the scandal. However, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has yet to comment on the situation, meaning Ziobro's position is secure for now.

According to onet.pl, a Whatsapp group named "Kasta", which included several judges supportive of the government and holding important posts in the Polish justice system, was also allegedly involved in supporting the smear campaign.

Some of the judges allegedly involved in the "Kasta" group are preparing court actions against the media, according to their lawyers.

On Wednesday, the Warsaw Regional Administrative Court suspended for a month Judge Tomasz Szmidt, husband of Emilia (the couple are currently getting divorced), who was allegedly part of the "Kasta", until disciplinary bodies make a final ruling on his case.

Konrad Wytrykowski, another judge allegedly involved in the "Kasta", who is himself part of the disciplinary body of the Supreme Court, was asked to submit clarifications about his involvement. Wytrykowski denies all the accusations.

Other judges are facing investigations by various disciplinary bodies.

"There is no evidence that Minister Ziobro was aware of this practice, of what was happening there," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the private channel TVN24 in an interview on Tuesday night.

"It was good that the reaction was so quick. 24 hours and former (Deputy) Minister Piebiak resigned. We cut off this topic, we reacted in the appropriate way, because this hate speech, these types of actions of which we heard, sharing of certain data, are absolutely reprehensible," Morawiecki said.