Tomasz Piątek: “Poles want to know the truth”
“Poles want to know the truth”
The author of Macierewicz and His
Secrets on how the Russian mafia and secret service may be influencing policy in Poland
The Ukrainian Week talked to Polish journalist Tomasz Piątek about his 2017 bestseller, Macierewicz and His Secrets, and about how the Russian mafia and secret service may be influencing policy in Poland.
Already 250,000 copies of your book have been sold in Poland. What do you think has made it such a success?
— Poles want the truth and they want to know who has common political or business interests with whom. They’re pretty fed up with what they’re seeing on TV, which is usually the official position. It doesn’t show important financial ties among various organizations and forces that are operating in politics and business. But most of all, this book has been a success because of who it's about—Antoni Macierewicz. He’s an extremely important figure in both Polish politics and in history and he has influenced both for more than half a century at this point. Yet few people have heard of him outside of Poland. For many years, he’s been playing the role of Russia’s biggest enemy in Poland, but he’s been doing this in such a way that even others who are against the Kremlin find his various conspiracy theories laughable. Macierewicz has been the main proponent of the theory that the Russians were behind the 2010 tragedy in which the Polish president’s plane crashed outside Smolensk.
I remember a few years ago when I was trying to warn people about Russia’s influence in Poland, some folks also tried to mock me, suggesting that I’m saying things that are just as crazy as Macierewicz. Yet some 20% of Poles believe that he is a 100% Polish patriot and enemy of Russia. It’s possible that they believe in him even more than in Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
With such a group of fanatical supporters, this politician is in a position to destabilize Polish politics in a number of different ways. When I exposed the fact that Antoni Macierewicz has at least 10 indirect but close and significant political and commercial ties with Russia, its infamous Solntsevskaya Bratva mafia and RussianUkrainian ‘capo di tutti capi’ Semion Mogilevich, as well as to Russia’s military investigative arm known as GRU and politicians who work in the Kremlin, it became pretty clear to me that Poles had good reasons for wanting to know who this man is.
Interestingly, despite his core support group, Macierewicz is one of he least trusted politicians in Poland. Depending on the survey, distrust in him ranges from 50% to 70%.
Macierewicz is clearly important in Polish politics, but what made you decide to make precisely him the main focus of your book? Did you know something other Poles didn’t know?
— No, I didn’t. My reason for writing the book was simple. During the last election campaign, the Law & Justice Party (PiS) promised that Macierewicz would not be given the defense portfolio. At the time, he had been the vice-president of the party for several years. It was known that intelligence and defense had always been a keen interest of his, and there had been talk of making him defense minister, but Beata Szydlo, who was in charge of the campaign, reassured everyone that this would not happen.
But when PiS won, Macierewicz was immediately appointed to this post. That was when I had to ask myself, how can it be that this man, whom everyone hates—including right-wing voters—, someone who has caused a series of painful failures and catastrophes in Polish politics—including for the right to which he has been linked for decades—for the last quarter-century, is being trusted with the national security of Poland? At that point, I simply assumed that someone had his back. Possibly some Polish businesses are funding him, which allows him to shore up support and allies. So I began to look into who Macierewicz the businessman is and that’s how I came across a mysterious millionaire from Lublin— well, actually from Warsaw, but his company operates out of Lublin—called Robert Lusnia.
It turns out that this person was Macierewicz’s closest political and business ally for 30 years. At the same time, of course, he was paid by the communist secret police as an informer. Now Lusnia is one of the people Macierewicz claims he is fighting against, against the influence of one-time secret service agents in politics and business. After I began looking into Lusnia a bit more, it turned out that the communist officers who handled him as an agent in the 1980s also worked for Russia’s GRU. Later, it turned out that Lusnia introduced Macierewicz to anti-Ukrainian, anti-western, pro-Russian activist Konrad Rękas [Rękas refers to the current Ukrainian government as a ‘junta’ in many internet portals.—Ed.]. Today, Rękas runs the Polish pro-Russian party Zmiana [Change]. Zmiana’s founder Mateusz Piskorski is currently under investigation, as he is suspected of spying on Russia’s behalf.
In fact, Antoni Macierewicz has plenty of ties of this kind. In the Defense Ministry, he hired such pro-Russian experts as Col. (ret.) Krzysztof Gaj, who said back in 2014 that he supported Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and insisted that Ukrainians were just a fascist conflagration. In Polish, pozoga has very negative connotations, meaning both conflagration and plague at the same time—in short, it’s the language of hatred. Macierewicz also hired one Grzegorz Kwasniak, who has publicly undermined Poland’s trust in its western allies.
When these individuals began to work at the Polish Defense Ministry, he entrusted them with setting up private defense units, in other words, a private amateur army. I call it private because it is not subordinated to the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, the way other military units do, but was under the command of a civilian politician, the boss of the Ministry of Defense— meaning Antoni Macierewicz. He also invited other fans of Putin from the Zmiana Party and from the X-Falanga to this army. Members of X-Falanga have flown to Donbas to support Russia’ proxies.
It turns out that the three who put together this odd army—Kwasniak, Gaj and Deputy Minister Tomasz Szatkowski—were all either members of or experts from the National Center for Strategic Studies (NCSS). It’s called a “national” center but in fact it’s a private organization founded by Jacek Kotas. He’s called Macierewicz’s Russian connection and for 14 years he worked for companies linked to the Russian mafia in Poland. Yet Macierewicz consistently gave work to Kotas’s experts in the MoD. In 2007 when Macierewicz was in charge of military counterintelligence, this department gave Kotas right of access to Polish military secrets, although by then he had been working for more than five years with companies linked to the Russian mafia and this was well known. We’re talking about the Solntsevskaya Bratva, the mafia connected to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence arm. These kinds of links are many. They have all been documented in detail and raise difficult questions about those in power and money. We aren’t talking about casual meetings or individual conversations.
In January, you were invited to NATO headquarters to talk about your investigation. How did they react to this information?
— I was invited to talk about Macierewicz’s Russian links with members of the European Parliament at a special conference. Shortly before I was supposed to leave, I was also called to NATO headquarters. This was a conversation with experts. It lasted about an hour and a half and afterwards I was asked to send as much information as possible. They listened to the information that I presented with great interest.
You have said that Polish officials have not shown interest in the information that you presented in your book. Is it still true that none of them are showing interest?
— I’ve had unofficial signals that some politicians in the ruling party, but likely more those who are connected to the Presidential Administration, not the Government, support what I’m doing. Officially, members of the Government and PiS politicians have very aggressively attacked me in public. Now that the minister has been dismissed, this has stopped. The fact that he was shunted aside confirms that what I’ve been writing is the truth. I hope that Jaroslaw Kaczynski read my book and drew the necessary conclusions—although he’ll never admit it.
Prior to this there were a lot of public attacks of a very personal nature against me, related to my illness: I was accused of being an alcoholic and a drug addict. In
I’VE HAD UNOFFICIAL SIGNALS THAT SOME POLITICIANS IN THE RULING PARTY, BUT LIKELY MORE THOSE WHO ARE CONNECTED TO THE PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION, NOT THE GOVERNMENT, SUPPORT WHAT I’M DOING. OFFICIALLY, MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNMENT AND PiS POLITICIANS HAVE VERY AGGRESSIVELY ATTACKED ME IN PUBLIC
fact, I haven’t used either substance for many years now. I was also attacked for my religious beliefs, as I’m a protestant. People kept saying that I was going after Minister Macierewicz because he was Catholic and I’m Protestant so I obviously despise all Catholics.
These days, no one’s attacking me any more, but there haven’t been any apologies for the insults of the past, either. Meanwhile, the court case against me hasn’t been dropped. When I published my book, the minister turned to the military prosecutor and accused me, not of libel or slander, because clearly that would have gone nowhere, but of terrorism. My book is very thoroughly documented, with several hundred footnotes, and 90% of the information is from open sources. And so Macierewicz couldn’t sue me for libel, but accused me of terrorism under Art. 224 of the Polish Criminal Code. I’m also accused of violence or illegal threats against a civil servant. This is considered a crime of a terrorist nature. The case is still being investigated, although it’s been handed over to the civilian courts by the military prosecutor.
The very fact that the case against me, a civilian, was being handled by the military prosecutor was another level of absurdity. The accusations understandably scared off a lot of journalists who were also beginning to investigate these kinds of stories. For the first time since Poland became independent, a journalist was accused of terrorism due to the material he was publishing. You might say that, in order to protect his Russian ties, the minister chose to use Russian methods.
At this point, Macierewicz has been dismissed. Do you feel you played a role in his firing?
— I would say, yes. A quarter of a million people bought my book. The western press has had major articles on this topic and I’ve been interviewed as well. In France at least 8 articles have appeared, The Guardian has slowly begun to write about it, and one of the top Danish weeklies, Politiken, wrote a huge article about this. These were all directly before the dismissal. Most likely Kaczynski understood that it would not be possible to pretend that nothing had happened. And so the minister resigned, because he figured it would be easiest to sweep away the story in this way. I, on the other hand, think that it’s time to resolve this to the very end.
This is also a huge problem for Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It’s possibly the biggest mistake he’s ever made. Kaczynski was always insisting that he was a major enemy of Russia. He kept presenting himself as a great leader and meanwhile he allowed Russian agents to run the Defense Ministry. For, along with Macierewicz came his colleagues with even more visible Russian ties. This compromises Kaczynski, both as a leader and as a strategist. His main goal right now is to wash his hands of this affair, while I intend to try to expose it to the very end. I’m already writing my next book.
Will it be a continuation of the current investigation?
— It’s also about Macierewicz and his ties. It’s simply broader because I know a lot more now.
Your book also brings up a cassette scandal in Poland prior to the last elections to the Sejm. What role does Macierewicz play in this?
— He’s tangential to the scandal. I mentioned Jacek Kotas earlier, who worked for companies linked to the Russian mafia. At the same time, Macierewicz gave Kotas access to Polish military secrets. Later on, when he became DM, he hired Kotas’s pro-Russian colleagues as well. In addition to the companies Kotas managed, there were individuals who owned one of the restaurants where the Civic Platform Party was being eavesdropped on. This eavesdropping led to the CPP losing in the elections [after the conversations were published in the Polish press.—Ed.]. PiS won thanks to this scandal.
There was another restaurant where politicians were also being recorded and that owner is involved in business with Andriy Personа, a Ukrainian who is closely associated with Mogilevich. It turned out that the companies Kotas worked for are connected to this first restaurant, Sowa i Przyjaciele [Owl & Friends] and are also linked to Mogilevich through the Solntsevskaya mafia. These companies all belong to the Radius Group, which is controlled by the Szustkowski family. Robert Szustkowski, the head of the family, has been running businesses with the Solntsevskaya Bratva for decades. You might even say that he’s the business partner and possibly even gofer for Lev Kvetnoy and Andrei Skoch, two oligarchs in the Bratva mafia. Skoch is also famous for being the richest deputy in the Russian Duma, as he controls mine and steel interests in Russia together with Alisher Usmanov, an oligarch linked to the GRU.
Skoch himself also works with the GRU, forming paramilitary organizations that have been used to provide local security for Macierewicz. Mogilevich used to be the financial godfather of the Solntsevskaya mafia and has also worked with the GRU for decades.
In relation to the cassette scandal, the Solntsevskaya mafia and Mogilevich were not directly involved, but their fingerprints are visible in a variety of ways. So that this is perfectly clear, I should ad that the eavesdropping in those restaurants was not done by freelancers. The first time this was done was at Lemongrass, where the manager himself was doing the eavesdropping. When word got out that members of the Civic Platform were being recorded and they stopped going to that restaurant, the manager switched to the other place, where he agreed to be hired as a simple waiter, oddly enough. He did everything he could to encourage guests from the previous restaurant where he worked to come to the new one. Of course, they knew him as a manager, so they accepted the invitation and began to come to Sowa i Przyjaciele and the same individual, now as a waiter, continued to eavesdrop on them. We can see that this was an operation. Given that both restaurants were linked to the Russian mafia and the GRU, you can draw your own conclusions as to who was behind this scandal.