Poland’s president and government at odds over dismissal of state prosecutor

By Alan Charlish and Anna Koper

WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland’s president condemned the dismissal of the state prosector on Monday, escalating a conflict between the head of state and the new government as it moves to deliver on an election pledge to restore rule of law and unlock EU funds.

Justice Minister Adam Bodnar has been tasked with unpicking policies of the previous nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government which critics say increased political influence over the judicial system.

On Friday, he announced that Dariusz Barski had been illegitimately appointed to the position of state prosector under the PiS government.

Rolling back the PiS reforms is crucial if Poland is to release billions of euros in European Union funding that have been frozen over rule-of-law concerns.

However, it brings the new pro-European government into conflict with President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, in a turbulent first few weeks of “cohabitation”.

The president says Bodnar does not have the authority to unilaterally dismiss Barski. The justice ministry argues that Barski’s appointment was invalid, as laws in force at the time of his appointment barred somebody who had retired from taking up the role of state prosecutor.

“The dismissal of the state prosecutor may only take place after consultation between the prime minister and the president… it requires the president’s written consent,” Duda told reporters after a meeting with Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“There is no doubt that the law was broken here,” he added.

Tusk told a news conference that he had offered Bodnar his “full support” in making the prosecutor’s office independent. “I hope that the president will help us in this, not hinder us,” he said.

Monday’s row is the latest in a battle to undo the legacy of PiS that ruled Poland for eight years and came under fire for trying to politicise public media, the justice system and put its loyalists in control of key institutions and companies.

During PiS’s time in office prosecutors opposed to its reforms complained of undue political influence on their work. They said that those who carried out the party’s wishes advanced quickly in their careers, while PiS opponents said they were penalised.

PiS said its reforms were intended to sweep away the distortions and inefficiencies left from communist rule.

Bodnar told reporters on Monday that he wanted the new state prosecutor to be someone who “enjoys absolute authority, respect from all legal circles and will guarantee the proper functioning of the prosecutor’s office in the future.”

(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Anna Koper, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Ros Russell and Andrew Cawthorne)