Why did the Polish deputy minister of justice resign? Everything you need to know about the ‘Piebiak scandal’
A deputy minister of justice resigns. His devoted helper dismissed from his job at the ministry. Judge of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court and employees of the neo-NCJ summoned to give explanations. Alerted prosecution office and disciplinary commissioners. The Piebiak scandal, which was the ‘PiS caste’ scandal as early as on Thursday, is spreading ever wider. The government is playing it down, but the opinion polls have moved
Four days after the Piebiak scandal broke out following Onet’s publication of the correspondence between the former deputy minister of justice on Monday 19 August, it became one of the biggest scandals associated with the PiS government.
Just to reiterate:
- Monday 19 August. Publication of the correspondence between Deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak and Emilia, who is known on Twitter as Little Emi. Piebiak’s resignation on the following day.
- Tuesday 20 August. Further fragments of correspondence – this time of Piebiak’s close associate at the Ministry of Justice, a judge who had received a disciplinary penalty, Jakub Iwaniec. Iwaniec’s dismissal from employment at the Ministry on the next day.
- Wednesday 21 August. Publication of screenshots of how the newsgroup correspondence of the good change staff looks. Among the presumed discussers winding each other up with hates targeted at independent judges, including Konrad Wytrykowski from the Supreme Court, Maciej Nawacki and Jarosław Dudzicz, members of the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ) and Tomasz Szmydt, an employee of the Council and Little Emi’s spouse. Wytrykowski and Szmydt summoned on Thursday to provide explanations.
We sum up the events from Monday to Thursday evening. And we ask the questions of: will the PiS government manage to sweep the scandal under the carpet? Will Zbigniew Ziobro come out of it unscathed? Will the prosecution service that is subordinated to the Law and Justice party (PiS) conduct the investigation diligently? Who will be disciplined by disciplinary commissioners who could themselves have been involved in this scandal?
Piebiak to be dismissed
Onet’s investigation initially struck at Deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak – one of Zbigniew Ziobro’s soldiers and the main architect of PiS’ judicial ‘reforms’.
Piebiak’s correspondence with the online hater, Emilia, which was revealed on Monday 19 August in the evening, shows that he was the initiator and coordinator of the organized online harassment campaign. This was about attacking those judges who criticized the PiS government’s attempts to take over the judiciary. Including Krystian Markiewicz, president of the ‘Iustitia’ association, for whom Emilia, guided by Piebiak, was preparing a slanderous campaign.
“I am tendering my resignation from the office of undersecretary of state to the minister of justice out of a sense of responsibility for the success of the reforms, to which I have devoted four years of hard work”, announced Piebiak on 20 August in the afternoon.
Iwaniec: “He really needs to be fu..ed up badly”
“I shall accept Minister Piebiak’s resignation and think this will end the matter”, assured Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Tuesday 20 August, in the evening. Other PiS politicians were also explaining that the departure of the deputy minister will put an end to the ‘Piebiak scandal’.
But, on Tuesday evening, Onet revealed another piece of information, this time incriminating Piebiak’s right hand man – judge Jakub Iwaniec. It was Iwaniec who was supposed to provide compromising rumours about Krystian Markiewicz to the mysterious Emilia. The objective was clear: to discredit and silence him.
“He really needs to be fu**ed up badly”, wrote the judge in one of his messages to Emilia. “Kuba. Are we maximally screwing him up?” asks Emilia the next time they correspond.
“Minister Ziobro made the decision today to cut short the judge’s [Iwaniec – ed.] secondment to the Ministry of Justice,” Piotr Müller, the government’s press officer, announced on Wednesday, 21 August in the morning.
Judge Iwaniec was seconded to the Ministry in 2017, despite already having received a discipline penalty. He became famous as a ‘judge-fan’ who insulted a policeman and security guards in 2009 when they refused to let him into a football match. Piebiak’s confidant received the prestigious secondment as soon as the penalty of the reprimand was erased by law.
Kasta: “Gersdorf, get the fuck out!”
On Wednesday, 21 August, in the evening, Onet’s investigation reached the Supreme Court and the smear campaign against the first president of the Supreme Court, prof. Małgorzata Gersdorf.
The portal published screenshots of a newsgroup in the WhatsApp online messenger. According to Onet and ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’, the members of the group, which ironically named itself ‘Kasta’ [Caste], were around 10 judges of the ‘good change’ camp. They included Konrad Wytrykowski, a judge of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court established by PiS. It was he – another close friend of Łukasz Piebiak – who was supposed to have had the idea to send anonymous postcards to the president of the Supreme Court encouraging her to ‘get the fuck out’.
Other representatives of judges supporting PiS were also supposed to have taken part in the newsgroup. The names of employees of the new National Council of the Judiciary appear in the press reports. They include Tomasz Szmydt from the legal office – currently divorcing the converted hater Emilia, ‘Little Emi’ – as well as members of the NCJ: Dariusz Drajewicz, Maciej Nawacki and Jarosław Dudzicz.
Other judges and the mysterious ‘MS II’ – Łukasz Piebiak, according to Onet – also appear on the screenshots. In addition to them, two disciplinary commissioners of the judges were also supposed to belong to ‘Kasta’.
All the participants in of the newsgroup were winding each other up in contempt of independent judges, insulted them and made vulgar jokes. ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’s’ investigation showed that the group functioned hierarchically. There was a ‘chieftain’, there were ‘soldiers’, ‘guardians’ and ‘coordinators’.
“The Disciplinary Commissioner of the Supreme Court took steps ex officio to clarify and check the reports on Konrad Wytrykowski, Judge of the Disciplinary Chamber” Judge Michał Laskowski, press officer of the Supreme Court, told PAP on Thursday, 22 August.
Likewise, on Thursday, Maciej Mitera, press officer of the NCJ, announced that the members of the NCJ, Dudzicz, Nawacki and Drajwiecz, who are potentially involved in the scandal, are to immediately provide explanations. Tomasz Szmydt was recalled urgently from his annual leave for the same reason. Dudzicz told ‘Wyborcza’ that he has no reason to resign.
Ziobro’s prosecution office: we’ll take care of it
In the meantime, the prosecution office took an interest in the Piebiak case. The Regional Prosecution Office in Warsaw, headed by Paweł Blachowski, a prosecutor who was less-known, but deserved for the ‘good change’, became responsible for the investigation.
Until 2017, he was an ordinary line investigator at the District Prosecution Office in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. He owes his rapid promotion to the Warsaw Regional Prosecution Office to the Zbigniew Ziobro’s purges. The Act on the Prosecution Office enacted by PiS gives a selected few the right to a rapid promotion path.
Grateful Blachowski made several decisions, which were in line with the expectations of the PiS politicians.
Will the prosecution office managed by Blachowski apply diligence in the investigation in the #PiebiakGate case? This is doubtful, although numerous charges can be pressed.
In the OKO.press analysis, attorney Jacek Dubois states that there could have been an abuse of rights by a public official, the disclosure of confidential information and information from the case files, libel, persistent harassment and operation in an organized criminal group.
The disciplinary commissioner ‘attacks’
It seemed obvious that the Disciplinary Commissioners for the judges should also take an interest in Onet’s reports. Because the behaviour of Piebiak, Iwaniec and probably many other members of the WhatsApp group named ‘Kasta’ could have breached the principles of professional ethics.
The main disciplinary commissioner, Piotr Schab responded on Tuesday, 20 August in the evening. In the announcement, he stated that he was initiating an investigation to check whether the people mentioned in the publication had breached the dignity of a judge.
He did not stop at Piebiak and Iwaniec. He intends to check whether the head of ‘Iustitia’ – the denigrated judge, Krystian Markiewicz – actually urged a woman to have an abortion. This libel was a part of the smear campaign that the Twitter writer Emilia disseminated.
But this is not the end. On Wednesday, 21 August, Piotr Schab announced that he would check whether the judges are breaching the principles of professional ethics by the ‘unrestrained use of social media’.
The prohibition regarding the ‘lack of restraint’ was added to the principles of professional ethics of judges in 2017. There was no specification of what use of social media is restrained and what is not. The commissioner makes such a decision. Therefore, in theory, it will be possible for the announced explanatory proceedings to apply to all judges actively using Twitter and, for instance, commenting on the Piebiak scandal.
KastaWatch is watching
The campaign of conducting the online smear campaign on independent judges was not limited to Emilia, known on Twitter as @MalaEmiE.
One of the key accounts probably related to the scandal is @KastaWatch, which is persistently slandering judges opposed to the PiS ‘reforms’.
It transpires from the schedule generated by the SocialBearing analytical tool that one of the most common Twitter accounts links the @KastaWatch account with the accounts of judges Jarosław Dudzicz, Konrad Wytrykowski and Maciej Nawacki. These are the same names that appeared on the screenshots of the WhatsApp group named ‘Kasta’, which Onet published on Wednesday.
Other than Little Emi, the judges who were critical of the PiS ‘reforms’ had also been vilified for a long time by the holders of the accounts @Jackob16524713 and @FigoFago8. The prosecution office has been interested in all three for some time. The persecuted judges, including Piotr Gąciarek and Waldemar Żurek sued them for libel and stalking.
Mortal decay of the judges or the PiS government?
“This is just an argument among judges!” – the PiS politicians try to calm down the public. The pro-government media argue that Łukasz Piebiak was nobody of importance at the Ministry of Justice.
According to PiS, this is not a scandal that affects people at the highest levels of authority. But a ‘misunderstanding’, additionally an ‘environmental’ one, because the judges have argued with each other.
However, the scandal continues. It is known that this was not a one-man mishap, but a large-scale campaign of the ‘good change’ staff. It is possible that the same people supported the candidates to the neo-NCJ. PiS authorities are fiercely defending themselves against the publication of the list of signatures.
The extent to which Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro was involved in the matter remains unclear.
The government’s press officers categorically deny that Ziobro was aware of the existence of a group planning to vilify independent judges. Even so, his direct reports were supposed to have participated in it. But some clues lead directly to him. In one message to Little Emi, Łukasz Piebiak promises to provide the ‘good news to the boss, so that he can be pleased’. Who can be the deputy minister’s boss?
[translated by Roman Wojtasz]