Poland’s Tusk Pounces on Populists in Belarus Asylum Scandal

(Bloomberg) -- The curious case of an official in Poland’s previous nationalist government, who defected to Belarus, is proving to be a boon for Prime Minister Donald Tusk a month before European Parliament elections.

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Judge Tomasz Szmydt has become front-page news in Poland after he fled the country and on Monday asked for political asylum from Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Tusk and his allies have seized on the case as they gear up for a third ballot since October and following a lackluster performance in local elections last month.

Deputy Justice Minister Arkadiusz Myrcha on Thursday accused the Law & Justice party of granting the judge access to classified information and helping him rise through the ranks during its contested overhaul of courts.

The reforms carried out during eight years of Law & Justice rule sparked a conflict with the European Union and prompted Brussels to halt billions of euros in aid to Poland. In 2019, Szmydt was accused of running an online smear campaign against judges who opposed the overhaul.

“Judge Szmydt is on you,” Myrcha told opposition lawmakers. “The only question is whether it was due to someone’s ignorance, omission, or was it a fully conscious action?”

Tusk has called for a parliamentary probe into potential Russian and Belarusian interference in Polish politics, arguing the issue may go beyond Szmydt. Prosecutors are investigating whether the judge was a spy and Poland plans to issue an arrest warrant for him.

Law & Justice spokesman Rafal Bochenek said on Thursday it’s Tusk and his Civic Platform party that “conduct pro-Russia policies” and that Szmydt’s case was built on “unreliable testimony and opinions.”

Since leaving, Szmydt flooded his social media accounts with posts and videos recommending visits to Belarus and excerpts from his interviews including with Russia Today, the Kremlin’s global propaganda outlet. He said he’s never broken any laws and fled because speaking his mind in Tusk’s Poland was a “dangerous” activity.

Lukashenko said he will consider Szmydt’s plea for political asylum and ordered personal protection for the judge in Belarus so that opponents “don’t finish off the man,” according to state-owned news agency Belta.

--With assistance from Aliaksandr Kudrytski.

(Updates with Lukashenko comments in the last paragraph.)

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