Austrian developer allegedly testifies that Kaczyński was go-between for bribe

According to media reports an Austrian developer has accused the ruling party leader of taking 50,000 PLN and passing it on to a member of the foundation Mr Kaczyński presides over.

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Polish liberal pro-opposition daily “Gazeta Wyborcza” on Thursday reported on the testimony of Gerald Birgfellner, an Austrian developer who has accused Mr Kaczyński of deception over a real estate project. The businessman told prosecutors that Mr Kaczyński asked him for money to pay off a member of the Lech Kaczyński’s foundation board so that a real estate project on land owned by a company belonging to the foundation could go ahead.

Austrian accuses ruling party leader of handling the money

According to the paper, during the testimony given to the public prosecutor’s office on 13 March, the Austrian developer said that he took an envelope with 50,000 PLN (11,500 EUR) to Mr Kaczyński’s office. He says he handed over the money to Mr Kaczyński, who them took it into another room in which the member of the foundation was sitting. After a while the board member left and the Austrian was informed that the signature of the foundation board member, former priest Rafał Sawicz, had been secured.

The dispute

Gerald Birgfellner is an Austrian developer who was involved in scoping for a real estate project on land owned by a company over which the Lech Kaczyński Institute has control. The project was never realised, as the company could not secure planning permission to build two giant tower blocks that were to house a hotel, a conference centre, office space and living accommodation.

Mr Birgfellner is in dispute with the company over the amount of money owed to Mr Birgfellner as a result of the scoping work he carried out. The Austrian was working without a contract but argues that he incurred significant costs which he tried to recover from the company. When the company refused to pay him, he went to Mr Kaczyński to seek his protection. The ruling party leader told him that he could not force the company to pay, and advised the developer to go to court so that the company would have a legal title to pay the invoices. Mr Kaczyński also asked the Austrian to present detailed invoices of expenditures incurred.

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The evidence

The Austrian developer recorded some of his conversations with Mr Kaczyński. However, there is no record of the conversation that is alleged to have taken place over paying off the member of the foundation’s board. There is also no record of the payment of the 50,000 being made. The only evidence of the money ever having existed, though not paid over in the way the Austrian claims, is a record of a bank withdrawal of 50,000 PLN from Mr Birgfellner’s bank account.

A family and political matter

Gerald Birgfellner is married to Mr Kaczyński’s niece. He has hired lawyers who have worked for opposition figures and high profile businessmen. One of the attorneys is Roman Giertych, a former politician who was in a coalition government with Mr Kaczyński’s party, and who has become the ruling party leader’s sworn enemy since that government’s collapse in 2007. The Towergate affair has been embarrassing to the ruling party leader, as it damages his image of being an ascetic figure with little interest in business and finance. It also demonstrates the fact that the ruling party has considerable assets, in addition to the generous budget provisions for the upkeep of political parties.

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Image problems

An accusation of Mr Kaczyński being involved in soliciting a bribe is particularly incendiary. It has led to calls for the ruling party leader to at least be interviewed by the public prosecutor to give his version of events. But it could also just as well be a part of a slander campaign aiming to undermine both Mr Kaczyński and his party in the election year.

Conflict may intensify

Roman Giertych, as the Austrian’s attorney, has hinted his client may soon seek to file charges against Mr Kaczyński in an Austrian court, should the Polish prosecutors' office fail to charge Mr Kaczyński.

The ruling party leader has denied any criminal wrongdoing. He has argued that the case is a civil law dispute over how much money may be owed to Mr Birgfellner for his scoping work over the real estate project.