WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish prosecutors have opened an investigation into alleged abuse of power by opposition leader Donald Tusk when he was prime minister a decade ago, a step that critics of the ruling authorities are describing as politically motivated due to its timing ahead of elections later this year.
The Warsaw prosecutor’s office said Tuesday that it had opened the investigation on behalf of a Polish businessman who alleges that Tusk abused his power by investigating his business and forcing him to stop importing coal from Russia.
The businessman, Marek Falenta, was convicted and sentenced to 2 1/2 years of prison for organizing the secret recording of private conversations of political and business leaders in Warsaw restaurants in 2013 and 2014.
The conversations were published in Polish magazines in 2014. Soon afterwards, Tusk left Poland to take a top job in the EU, but the publication caused a scandal that contributed to the defeat in 2015 of the centrist, pro-European government led by his Civic Platform party. The current conservative ruling party was elected in its place.
The District Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw said in a statement Tuesday that the purpose of the proceedings was “to verify the circumstances indicated in the notification of the offence.”
Falenta alleged that Tusk abused his powers by ordering an inspection of the company he ran that imported Russian coal to Poland.
“In the opinion of the notifying party, the crime was to consist of exceeding official powers in connection with interference in the affairs of a commercial law entity and forcing it to cease its activity,” Aleksandra Skrzyniarz, spokeswoman for the District Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw, said in a statement.
She said that the office did not plan to interrogate Tusk at this stage.
At that time, Poland was importing large amounts of coal from Russia, something Tusk was seeking to crack down on. After Civic Platform lost power in 2015, Poland’s coal imports from Russia increased, but stopped after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
From the very beginning of the wiretapping affair in 2014, Tusk has suggested that it was written in “Cyrillic script,” a suggestion that Russia had a hand in trying to weaken his government because it opposed the Russian coal imports and sought strong ties with the EU.
Tusk on Tuesday repeated that claim and accused PiS, the acronym of the conservative ruling party Law and Justice, of acting on behalf of a convicted criminal who served Russian interests.
“PiS is pursuing me for my government’s fight against Russian coal imports. The prosecutor’s office acts at the request of Marek Falenta, an importer of this coal, convicted of illegal wiretapping. He used his tapes, in agreement with PiS, to overthrow the government. Cyrillic script,” Tusk said on Twitter.
The prosecutor’s investigation comes ahead of elections later this year. Polls show Law and Justice ahead in the polls. Civic Platform, the centrist party that Tusk leads, is its main challenger. He returned to Polish politics after serving as the president of the European Council from 2014-19.
A date has not been set for the elections, but they are likely to take place in late October, with Nov. 5 the last possible date they can be held.
Ruling officials and the state media, particularly the state broadcaster TVP, repeatedly depict Tusk in a negative light, accusing him of acting against Poland’s interests.
Tusk on Tuesday compared himself to the character played by Harrison Ford in the 1993 film “The Fugitive,” a man on the run after being framed for the murder of his wife.
“They can try to make me ‘The Fugitive,’ but we remember that this film ends well and those who pursue will be held accountable for every evil they have done,” Tusk said.
Government spokesman Piotr Müller said Tusk was not being singled out, and that the prosecutor’s office must investigate if it was notified of actions inconsistent with the law. He also said that Tusk would be given the chance during the proceedings “to prove, if he believes so, that there has been no violation of the law.”
“The prosecutor’s office must take its actions in accordance with the law, regardless of whether someone’s name is Donald Tusk or any other” name, he said.