News & Analysis

Austrian businessman accuses Poland’s most powerful politician of not paying for his services

Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has reported that lawyers acting for Austrian businessman Gerald Birgfellner have accused Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), of failing to pay him for services related to an office tower project in central Warsaw.

Recordings obtained by the paper, which allegedly date from July 2018, appear to feature audio of Mr Kaczyński commenting on and cancelling the project, Srebrna Towers, which he likes to call the K-Towers in reference to himself and his twin brother Lech, the fomer president of Poland killed in the Smolensk air crash in 2010.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Mr Kaczyński says: “If we don’t win the elections, we won’t be able to build this tower in Warsaw.”

Construction of the Srebrna Towers was suspended in June 2018. The planned project included two 190-metre towers which would house, apartments, a hotel, offices and the base of the Lech Kaczyński foundation. The paper also adds that the foundation, which backs PiS, is also the owner of Srebrna Limited, a real-estate company.

Mr Birgfellner, who has close ties to the Kaczyński family, claims to have worked for over a year on the project without being paid. In the spring of 2018 Mr Birgfellner began to worry. Srebrna Towers  had yet to receive planning permission from the local authorities.

State-owned Bank Pekao was meant to help finance the project with a 15.5 million-euro investment, as well as offer credit for around 300 million euros.

In the recording, Mr Kaczyński argues that the investment was hindered by politics, notably the media, the opposition in Warsaw, and Jan Śpiewak, a screenwriter and the son of sociologist Paweł Spiewak, who was a candidate for mayor of Warsaw.

In addition, the recording includes Mr Kaczyński offering Mr Birgfellner advice as to how to be remunerated for his efforts, stating that he should file a claim in the courts and that Mr Kaczyński would testify in his favour.

Mr Kaczyński has claimed that he was unaware of some of the issues raised by the Gazeta Wyborcza article.

“I would like to remind you that Kaczyński is behind all major scandals. There aren’t any decisions that are beyond Kaczyński’s knowledge or control. It’s time you finally believed,” said Lech Walesa, the former Polish president.

Beata Mazurek, a PiS spokesperson, said: “Both Law and Justice and Jarosław Kaczyński have been for years fighting with honesty in public life, and with corruption. Nothing has changed here.”