Polish prosecutors target former deputy minister in misuse of funds probe

FILE PHOTO: Interview with Polish Minister of Justice Bodnar in Warsaw

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's top prosecutor has asked parliament for permission to detain and charge a former deputy justice minister accused of involvement in the misuse of public money for purposes including political campaigning, his office said on Wednesday.

The pro-European coalition government of Donald Tusk says it has opened the way for prosecutors to investigate wrongdoing under the previous administration that would previously have been covered up. The nationalist opposition accuses it of a witch-hunt.

In recent weeks, the alleged misuse of money from the Justice Fund, set up to help victims of crime, has taken centre stage as a former official testified to a parliamentary commission that decisions on the disbursement of cash were made in a "dishonest" way.

Local media have reported that money from the fund was used to curry favour with rural voters in seats targeted by the Sovereign Poland party, a junior partner in the former government, by buying everything from fire engines to equipment for country housewives' associations.

Prosecutors have also said that 25 million zlotys ($6.19 million) from the fund was used to buy Pegasus phone-hacking software.

"Prosecutor General Adam Bodnar submitted... a request for the consent of the Parliament of the Republic of Poland to hold Marcin Romanowski, a member of the Parliament of the Republic of Poland, criminally liable, as well as his detention and temporary arrest," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The statement said that prosecutors had evidence that Romanowski had committed 11 crimes including exceeding his powers and causing the state treasury to suffer losses.

Romanowski denied the accusations.

"The request to withdraw my parliamentary immunity and arrest me in connection with the Justice Fund is a political plot," Romanowski said in a post on social media platform X, adding that he had "always acted in accordance with the law".

Prosecutor Bodnar also serves as justice minister. The two posts were combined under the previous government and Bodnar has vowed to separate them as part of reforms that the current administration says will restore the rule of law in Poland.

($1 = 4.0376 zlotys)

(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Editing by William Maclean)