Donald Tusk defends actions as former PM at Poland’s pyramid probe

Donald Tusk testifies before a parliamentary commission investigating a pyramid scheme that cheated thousands of Poles out of their savings during Tusk’s time as Poland’s PM. (AP Photo)
Updated 05 November 2018
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Donald Tusk defends actions as former PM at Poland’s pyramid probe

  • Tusk told the ruling conservative party that it was using his questioning by a parliamentary committee for political purposes
  • Prosecutors say some 19,000 investors lost over $225 million in what turned out to be one of the biggest financial scandals in Poland

WARSAW: Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, strongly defended his actions as Poland’s former prime minister during questioning Monday into a pyramid scheme that cheated thousands of Poles out of their savings.
In an emotional moment during the seven-hour hearing, which was televised live across Poland, Tusk told the ruling conservative party that it was using his questioning by a parliamentary committee for political purposes.
“You need this commission, you need this spectacle, to keep repeating ... your insinuations, also on the subject of my family,” Tusk said.
Still, Tusk said during the questioning that he did not feel particularly threatened or the object of a witch hunt. He said he was confident in his actions as prime minister from 2007 to 2014.
Tusk said the hearing showed the weakness of the commission, which he said was trying to put blame on him.
Before the hearing, Tusk told reporters he rearranged his EU calendar and showed up because he treats the commission’s work “seriously.”
“It was my obligation as a citizen,” he said.
Still, there was no escaping the political overtones of Monday’s interrogation, for there have been years of enmity between Tusk and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Commentators on private TVN24 described the event as a public “grilling,” and it was widely seen as part of the conservative party’s efforts to discredit Tusk, a political foe who is still popular in Poland.
Tusk was sworn in by the special multi-party commission that has already questioned dozens of state officials in its efforts to pinpoint responsibility for the scam. Addressing him as “prime minister” the commission sought to determine the scope of Tusk’s authority over state security and other offices and when he was made aware of the pyramid scheme by the Amber Gold financial institution.
Prosecutors say some 19,000 investors lost over 850 million zlotys ($225 million) in what turned out to be one of the biggest financial scandals in Poland. Amber Gold’s two founders are both under arrest in prison and are on trial facing up to 15-year sentences. One of them is also serving a prison term for another bank scam.
The scam, which was revealed in 2012, has raised questions about the effectiveness of Poland’s government during Tusk’s term in office. Critics say Polish authorities failed to react in time to warning signals about Amber Gold.
Rejecting these allegations, Tusk said a warning against Amber Gold was issued by the Polish Financial Supervision Commission, or KNF, and it was not the prime minister’s job to issue such a warning.
“While I have sympathy for those who invested in Amber Gold, because they are the victims of these dealings, I want to say that a warning by the KNF that it was linked to very high risk was publicly available,” Tusk said.
He suggested that some anti-crime procedures had failed in the Amber Gold case, as well as fiscal controls and the office for protecting consumers.
“In the Amber Gold case, had all the links described in the procedure worked as they should have, we would have probably managed to avoid the lion’s share of the losses that people sustained,” Tusk said.
One of the themes of the investigation and of Monday’s questioning was the fact that Tusk’s son Michal was employed by an airline owned by Amber Gold. Tusk denied allegations that his son’s job could have served as a protective umbrella for the pyramid scheme.
The televised questioning came a day after Poland’s populist ruling party suffered a blow in the country’s mayoral races by failing to win control of any of the nation’s largest cities. The pyramid probe commission’s own chief, Malgorzata Wassermann of Law and Justice, lost her bid to become mayor of the city of Krakow.
In Sunday’s runoff races, Poles chose the mayors of 649 cities, towns and local municipalities across the central European nation of 37 million, handing landslide victories to opposition politicians in top cities. Polish media described the results as a clear defeat for Law and Justice.
Tusk said he was “very surprised by the scale of Law and Justice’s defeat” and said the opposition got a boost from the local elections.
The vote highlighted the deep political divisions in Poland between the country’s urban liberals and its staunchly conservative, often older, rural residents.
For his part, Kaczynski claims that negligence under Tusk was the reason for the 2010 plane crash in which his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, was killed. Tusk and the president had a rocky relationship.
However, the investigation into the plane crash in Smolensk, Russia — which killed 96 state, military and other officials — said it was due to human error amid poor visibility at a rudimentary airport.


Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

Updated 51 min ago
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Brazil seeks to privatize key stretches of Amazon highways

  • President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure
  • The Trans-Amazonian highway was inaugurated in the 1970s but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers were paved
BRASILIA: Brazil will add the Trans-Amazonian Highway to the list of projects for privatization, its infrastructure minister said on Tuesday, seeking new investment to pave part of a dictatorship-era roadway already blamed for extensive deforestation.
The road concession will be added to a priority list for privatization at a meeting next month, Infrastructure Minister Tarcisio Freitas told Reuters in an interview.
The government will package a short section of highway with a concession to run a major section of BR-163, a key northern route for shipping Brazilian grains, a ministry spokesman said later on Tuesday. The 40-km (25-mile) section of the Trans-Amazonian up for privatization will connect BR-163 with the river port of Miritituba in northern state of Para, the spokesman said.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is seeking to overhaul Brazil’s poor transportation infrastructure, which raises costs and causes delays for the commodity-exporting powerhouse, by seeking private investors to operate dozens of road, rail and airport projects.
On Monday, government Secretary Adalberto Vasconcelos, who has been tasked with creating public-private infrastructure partnerships, said the country would privatize more airports and secure new investment for railways.
For roadways, five concessions are slated for auction this year with a long pipeline of projects to follow, according to Freitas. BR-262/381 in the state of Minas Gerais, sometimes called the “Road of Death” because its poor condition has contributed to lethal accidents, will also be put on the privatization list next month, he said.
The Trans-Amazonian highway, officially known as BR-230, was inaugurated in the 1970s under Brazil’s military dictatorship, but only a fraction of its nearly 3,000 kilometers (1,864-miles) were paved and much of the existing roadway has fallen into disrepair. It stretches from the coastal state of Paraiba deep into Amazonas state. Original plans for it to reach the border with Peru were never completed.
Nevertheless, research by Brazil’s space agency and academics has linked the road to a rise in deforestation, and road improvements allowing easier access deep into the Amazon have consistently led to increased deforestation nearby.
He said that major construction firms that were implicated in corruption schemes remain unable to participate in public auctions for infrastructure projects, but could act as subcontractors for winners of concession auctions.
Engineering conglomerates Odebrecht SA and Andrade Gutierrez SA, both implicated in corruption schemes to fix contracts, signed leniency deals with the government admitting guilt and agreeing to cooperate, which allows them to contest government contracts. Companies linked to corruption but without such leniency deals may be subject to legal challenges.
“They are companies that have know-how, companies with engineering (ability), companies that can provide good services,” Freitas said.