PEGA-UntersuchungsausschussPolen hackt Bürgermeister mit Staatstrojaner

Weil er sich in der Opposition engagierte, hat die polnische Regierung Jacek Karnowski überwacht. Im PEGA-Ausschuss erzählt der Bürgermeister von Sopot seine Geschichte – und warnt vor dem Einsatz von Staatstrojanern bei den anstehenden Wahlen. Wir veröffentlichen ein inoffizielles Wortprotokoll der Anhörung.

Jacek Karnowski, Bürgermeister der polnischen Stadt Sopot, spricht vor dem Untersuchungsausschuss. Im Hintergrund sind die Flaggen von Europa und der Stadt Sopot zu sehen.
Jacek Karnowski, Bürgermeister der polnischen Stadt Sopot. – Alle Rechte vorbehalten Europäisches Parlament

Der Staatstrojaner-Untersuchungsausschuss des EU-Parlaments hat am 27. März Jacek Karnowski angehört, Bürgermeister der polnischen Stadt Sopot.

Hintergrund war ein Bericht einer polnischen Tageszeitung von Anfang März. Demnach haben das Zentrale Antikorruptionsbüro und der Gehemeidienst Karnowskis Handy zwischen 2018 und 2019 dutzendfach mit dem Staatstrojaner Pegasus infiziert und abgehört. Die damalige und heutige rechtskonservative Regierungspartei Recht und Gerechtigkeit (PiS) hat die Überwachung in Auftrag gegeben, so die Zeitung.

Karnowski ist der PiS-Partei schon länger ein Dorn im Auge. Im Vorfeld der Parlamentswahlen in Polen 2019 war er am sogenannten Senatspakt beteiligt, in dem die wichtigsten Oppositionsparteien in Polen ein Wahlbündnis schlossen und erfolgreich die Mehrheit im Senat errungen. Karnowski stand dadurch in engem Kontakt mit führenden Politikern der Opposition, mit denen er die gemeinsame Wahlkampagne vorbereitete.

Auch für die im Herbst dieses Jahres anstehenden Wahlen in Polen ist eine ähnliche Allianz der Oppositionsparteien in Planung. Das Stadtoberhaupt von Sopot selbst steht derzeit an der Spitze einer Koalition polnischer Bürgermeister, die Berichten zufolge ebenfalls plant, sich gegen die PiS-Partei bei der kommenden Parlamentswahlen zu positionieren.

Von der Anhörung gibt es ein Video, aber kein offizielles Transkript. Daher veröffentlichen wir ein inoffizielles Transkript.

  • Date: 2023-03-27
  • Institution: European Parliament
  • Committee: PEGA
  • Chair: Jeroen Lenaers
  • Expert: Jacek Karnowski – major of Sopot, Poland
  • Link: Video
  • Note: This transcript is automated and unofficial, it will contain errors.
  • Editors: Jan Lutz

Exchange of views with Jacek Karnowski, major of Sopot, Poland

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): All right. Thank you. Thank you, all, colleagues. The connection has been established so we can start our meeting. And I propose that we do. Sorry. There’s too much light. I can, I can ask if there’s too much light. If we could dim the lights in the room a little bit when the speaker is speaking so we can also see him very well. Just to inform you that we have interpretation in German, English, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, Bulgarian and Romanian. On the agenda, we only have one point on the agenda, so I consider that adopted and we will move straight into our exchange of views with Jacek Karnowski, who is the mayor of Sopot in Poland.

This is the only item we have for today’s session. Given the recent reports on the use of the Pegasus spyware on Mr. Karnowski phone and following a request that I have received, among others by Mr. Kohut, I have asked Secretary to organise this exchange with Mr. Jacek Karnowski and I would like to thank him for making himself available at such short notice to have this exchange with the members. So if the connection is working, I would give you Mr. Karnowski the floor for about 10 minutes to make your presentation, and then we will go to the room here to ask the questions of our colleagues. So, Mr. Karnowski, you have the floor.

Jacek Karnowski (major of Sopot in Poland): Well, thank you very much. I’d like to thank you very much for the invitation for today’s meeting. Please excuse me that I couldn’t be there. Present. In the room. Ladies and gentlemen, the situation, or rather surveillance through Pegasus was a continuation of the measures which have been taken against me as the major of Sopot. I’ve been the mayor of Sopot for 25 years. In 2008 and 2010, the secret services of the PiS-Party, the CBA, the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, led by Mariusz Kamiński, the Secret Service and this anti-corruption agency conducted a major investigation against me or of my personal.

Now we have 42 different investigations have been conducted, it’s been said, and investigations which have taken place in numerous different spheres, in numerous different areas of the local authorities throughout the administration in Sopot and eight indictments against me as well by the state prosecutor. And furthermore proof was falsified or evidence, rather, was falsified, the entire procedure. It proved that I was not guilty. The High Court in Poland also ruled, of course the members have been elected by the PiS party, so no one can say that the High Court or the Supreme Court in Poland wanted to do me any particular favour. But I was found not guilty. And also the various meetings, the hearings and some of the local authorities in my area were listened in on and the Minister of Justice. The Minister of Justice observed what was going on, or rather there was surveillance that was being conducted. They called for me to be for me to give up my particular position.

Now, Sopot is a particularly important area. Janusz Lewandowski. Mr. Tusk as well, are closely linked with our area and Alexander (incomprehensible) as well. One of the most important politicians of days passed are also members of the Citizens platform and a treasurer of our particular party was this gentleman. So it was clear that this attack, this surveillance had, of course, political reasons why that was done.

Now, as a journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza have pointed out, surveillance was conducted in from March of 2008 until March of 2019. My telephone was bugged and as a representative of local authorities and agencies in Poland, I’ve participated in the so-called Senate’s pact, and the Senate is a major source or a major source of authority of power of the opposition. And with other senators, we have established the Senate pact. We’ve conducted consultations with other politicians as well, a number of different individuals to bring together a kind of opposition platform. So surveillance was conducted, and probably because I had close contact with other local authority political figures from the opposition once again and I have been a major opposition representative in the Association of Local Authority of local authorities in Poland.

And I must say that this type of surveillance was extremely painful. I was in contact with my lawyer. The lawyer of Paweł Adamowicz, the former and actually murdered mayor of Danzig. And I worked together with them in the past as well. Very painful this entire experience. And the material that was collected, the evidence that was collected by the prosecutor’s office that was presented, and I mentioned the case of Mr. (incomprehensible) as well in relation to this, but it also showed that the surveillance of Mr. (incomprehensible) smartphone was conducted by the same agent. That had been used by Mariusz Kamiński from the anti-corruption office. In other words, in other words, the same agents entered into my telephone as well through this spyware. All of this in order to conduct surveillance and to intimidate as well the party’s opposition. The situation is very concerning indeed. But one could say that whereas in the past, the possibility of surveillance was much more limited, right now it is much more pervasive, and we see it increasingly, much more frequently than in the past as well. So I do believe that of course, that type of bugging was possible 15 or 20 years ago, but now it has taken on completely different dimensions. Much greater indeed. Thank you.

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. Thank you very much. I had to wait a little bit for the interpretation. Thank you very much, Mr. Karnowski, for your for very interesting contribution. I will open the floor immediately with our colleagues in the room. We’ll start with our colleague, rapporteur Sophie in ‚t Veld. Anybody else who would like to take the floor in this Q&A? Please indicate so to me so we can finalise the Speaker’s list. Thank you.

Sophie in ’t Veld (Renew): Thank you, Chair. And thank you, Mr. Karnowski, for your availability. It’s great to have the opportunity for this exchange. I have a couple of questions. First of all, can you tell us a little bit more about how you found out? When did you become aware that your phone had been hacked and has in your case, like in other cases, some of the content that they have obtained, the people who were spying on you, has it been used in in public to discredit you or has been used against you?

Secondly, you mentioned you mentioned, you know, why you would be of interest to, uh, as you were close to to some other opposition politicians and some of your activities in the Senate and the Association of Local Authorities. But why do you think they have targeted you specifically and why specifically during that period? What’s happened during that one year? I understand it was March 2018 to March 2019.

So, what exactly happened in the year that made the you became the target or were they trying to listening to others through you? Then you say you’ve been indicted eight times by the state prosecutor. What were the charges? And has each of these cases now been been concluded? Because you said you’ve been cleared by the court, including by the Supreme Court. So does that mean that there are no more cases pending? And can you say a little bit more about the the kind of indictments and also the period over which those indictments were launched against you? Thank you.

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Karnowski.

Jacek Karnowski (major of Sopot in Poland): I discovered I was being bugged with Pegasus spyware thanks to watch journalists who belong to the International Pegasus Project. Those journalists discovered information to the effect that the special services had bonked my phone dozens of times between that period in 2018 and 2019. So I found this out from members of the Pegasus Project team. Because the (incomprehensible) journalists in particular. Now, why was I in particular bugged is because I had direct relations with the leader of the Civic platform (incomprehensible). And the opposition parties as well as Mr. Czarzasty, the the head of the left.

Now at the time, up until March 2019, we’ve started to prepare a system for nominating candidates for the Polish Senate. So we completed our pact for the Senate and I was working together with (incomprehensible) to prepare the parliamentary election campaign. So the purpose of the pact was to ensure that in every constituency the opposition would be in a position to run at least one candidate. So we worked together on the names we would put forward as candidates, and we also struck an agreement on our electoral strategy. That might be the reason I was bugged. As for the charges on which I was indicted, a businessman registered me or recorded me. And then, according to the record services, saying that I’d asked him for a bribe. And then we found out that that recording had been manipulated. Only parts of it hadn’t been put together and sent. And in practice the reason was that that businessmen had had a building permit refused by my council. And then with the question regarding the purchase and repair of a car on the car purchase, the the prosecutor’s office itself said that the the case should be closed because the value of the can’t be miscalculated without any expert input.

As for the repairs to the car. The component parts covered by this case, components of a Volkswagen Polo, that’s a different brand from my car. And so here again, the prosecutor cleared me. There were also attempts to investigate a public private partnership. When accusations were levied at me on the basis of the material gathered by the secret services, the prosecutor’s office were not in a position to charge me. So again, that all came to nothing.

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Very much so moved to the MP, Ms. Arłukowicz.

Bartosz Adam Arłukowicz (European People’s Party): Thank you, Chairman. I have a question I’d like to put regarding an email, published in government media. Is it true, may I ask, that following the death of Mr. Adamowicz, the major of Danzig, you sent an email to the party leader, Donald Tusk, regarding his presence at the funeral. Asking whether he could take part. Is it true? We know you wrote the email, your secretariat, one of Donald Tusk’s, the staff himself were in copy at the time. We don’t know exactly or we didn’t know how this had happened, but now we know, it was published on government media, thanks to the use of Pegasus spyware, but without your knowledge, without your being informed that you’d been bugged. So could you confirm that to me, please?

Jacek Karnowski (major of Sopot in Poland): Yes, indeed. I can confirm this to the honourable member. At the beginning of January 2019, (incomprehensible), the Minister and one of Donald Tusks team got in touch with me and explained the situation in Gdansk. Was the previous evening. Mr. Adamowicz, which had been murdered, the major of Danzig, someone that Donald Tusk knew very well. And a march had been convened through the centre of Danzig for the following day. The atmosphere was very tense. There are a lot of feelings in the air. At that point, the man had not yet died, but his life was hanging by a thread because he’d been hit several times in the heart. He was in a critical condition. His wife, the current MP, and the daughter had been told that he was in critical condition. And I asked Mr. Tusk to attend the march because we needed people who could keep the situation under control. And Mr. Tusk, following my email request did indeed swiftly come. The deputy mayor was aware of the email, we consulted into. So just a few people knew about this.

Some months ago, the event was published in government media, which are completely under the control of the PiS party, and they attacked Donald Tusk and me saying that we wanted to use Donald Tusk position. Trying to manipulate his status as a hero. But Donald Tusk it is important that you take part. I asked him to come quickly to Danzig. I picked him up at the airport, actually, and we quickly went along to the march where he spoke. It was important. In the meantime, the marchers had heard the news that the mayor of Danzig had actually died. And that news came through against the backdrop of the annual festival, which is organised for good causes. So the whole situation is extremely difficult.

And there was another case, one of the people. Who discovered about Pegasus. Checked his messages on the messenger platform. This was a young adviser of ours. She had a number of messages sent at night. The links to Internet pages. And no, she told me that that that she didn’t send these emails. So again, it was manipulation so that at least, two cases of use of Pegasus against an opposition politician. Prior to elections. Paramount to a sort of Polish Watergate. Although in this instance bugging had already taken place. So this does pose question mark of the validity of the elections. And we have to wonder what will happen in the next elections.

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much, Łukasz Kohut.

Łukasz Kohut (Socialists and Democrats): Thank you for agreeing to take part at this meeting of the Pegasus committee. Your case is unprecedented. According to a distinguished opposition figure being bunked at Pegasus. We have to react. You were one of those who put together the Senate election campaign in 2017 when the opposition won the Senate despite Pegasus. So: Can I ask you, do you think, this affected the degree of loss, that this would have had a bearing on your election campaign? Had you not been spied on, you would have scored a win, a victory, would you not? May I ask you, whether you’re aware of any information from within your election campaign team getting to the government? Indeed, says Mr. (incomprehensible) that that information was discovered. And do you know whether any other distinguished figures have been spied on?

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): We lost the connection for a moment. So we try to re we try to re-establish that. And maybe, Mr. Kohut, you need to ask the last part of your question again, because I think he the connection was lost somewhere in the middle of your question at the end. We will try and because the connection was good, so we’ll just try to reconnect. Yes, Mr. Karnowski. Good to have you back. The connection was lost a certain moment. So I’m just going to ask Mr. Korhut to retable his last question. So we are sure that

Łukasz Kohut (Socialists and Democrats):Yes, Chairman, I had two questions. Have you received any information regarding some information being leaked from your campaign to the authorities and were any other people in the Senate campaign spied on using Pegasus, Mr. Karnowski?

Jacek Karnowski (major of Sopot in Poland): Well. One very surprising things are the campaign for the Senate elections, I would say, is that all of a sudden? They were local authorities. Figures in local authorities suddenly stood as candidates for the Senate. Now, normally it takes some time in preparation to run for the Senate. No, I can’t say I definitely know this, but there are indications. But particular people, for example, Senator (incomprehensible), who’d signed the two Senate Pact with me says: You know, when you have two candidates for one position, one from the opposition and one from the government, they have to fight for the votes and they take it from each other.

Probably they did obtain information on our election campaign. No doubt that did cost us some seats. That may be why we lost in certain constituencies. Now: If the government, is asserting that it will not use the same methods in the coming elections. We need to be aware that we requested the setting up of a committee of inquiry. They shouldn’t be using these methods now. They should therefore not oppose the setting up of such a committee of inquiry. I told you that 15 years ago, I found myself, being subjected to court proceedings. We think, this is a strategy that there is a risk of them using again this time around. Who else has been punctual Christian of praise and we know has been punked as well as myself. And the main leaders of the opposition parties needs to comment. (Incomprehensible) and other MPs have also definitely been spied on.

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): We will try to reconnect again. Which is interesting because the connection is quite clear. I can’t I can’t tell you from here whether it’s it’s the connection in Brussels or in Sopot. But he is coming. There is there is the connection coming back now. Yes, Mr. Karnowski, we’re back. So I’m not sure where you were cut off at at some point when in the English translation you mentioned that certainly others had been spied upon as well. So I’m not sure if you still. Add that additional information to share in this particular point, or that was the conclusion. So you.

Jacek Karnowski (major of Sopot in Poland): I was saying that (incomprehensible) and I had been spied on. And so undoubtedly other opposition leaders (incomprehensible).

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Connection magically broke. Exactly at the end of your answer, which is which is a good coincidence. And we moved to Roza Thun on behalf of the non-profit Renew. I’m sorry.

Róża Thun und Hohenstein (Renew Europe): Good morning. This is a terrible situation. Good afternoon. This is a terrible situation. I have a number of questions put to you. First of all: You mentioned a range of party leaders. In the opposition that you believed to have been spied on. I wonder whether anyone can actually confirm that they’ve been spied on or not. Has anyone checked their phones? And then: The letter to Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council, following the tragic murder of of Adamowicz. When you ask him to come to Poland, that the letter was used by the mass media after you’d been spied on, you were saying that it was mentioned on public TV, but you didn’t publish that email yourself at all.

So may I ask whether there’s any evidence to show that the material gathered from your phone, was used in the public media? There was an email there which was indeed published as that other material. And then you said that one of your advisers said, that she’d had messages on Messenger with a number of links that had had supposedly been sent by you. Could you tell us what this means? Does it mean that without your knowledge, your phone was being used? All your advisers was to commit said that you were sending links which you’re sure you didn’t centre. And you said she was spied on by the agents who spied on Senator praised her too. Can you tell us the source of your knowledge of this? How do you know it was the same people?

And then lastly: The the point that in the forthcoming elections there might be some spying going on, whether it be using Pegasus, spyware or other tools. You were punked. So with (incomprehensible) and probably others too, even if you don’t have 100% assurances of that. So just thinking aloud, I wonder whether what’s being prepared in Poland is a strategy to avoid the manipulation of thinking of the elections. Do you have a strategy which we as MPs might be able to take part in and give you a helping hand? That’s what we’re talking about. Pegasus hasn’t been used only in Poland, but in other European countries too. We know it has been wielded against the opposition. Unfortunately, Poland isn’t the only country where that has occurred. And there are other elections coming in other countries, too. We’re thinking through what can be done to avoid tools such as Pegasus influencing the outcome of the elections. We’d like to know. Whether you’ve been discussing this in Poland, don’t you think it would be helpful to have synergy with the MEPs.

Jacek Karnowski (major of Sopot in Poland): Thank you. So when it comes to what I was seeing, it’s about the same people that were pursuing me 15 years ago. I mean, I know this from the information from the inquiry because I was accused at the time and saw I had access to the material and I saw the names of the officials involved, the the fact that they used Pegasus against Mr. Brejza. I know Mr. Brejza. I know his father as well. And we have exchanged information because they also had access to the documents. And I had access to the documents from 15 years ago. And it was the same names. I’m not sure if I can give these names, but these are special agents speaking in Belgium. These are specific people. The names are mentioned in these documents, and 15 years ago they were following me on. Just recently, they’ve been working on the case against Mr. Brejza.

These are people who are part of a campaign orchestrated by Mr. Kaminski against the opposition. That email was revealed by radio station. And I can send that in. I can send you the part of the radio program where that was mentioned for the first time. Furthermore, I haven’t spoken to Donald Tusk anymore about that email because for us it was sort of mothballed, it was closed. So it seems that somebody was actually spying on these communications. On then I was talking about one of my members of staff. They don’t send me messages at two in the morning. This is a young person of 30 years of age. They don’t send emails at night. But no, I don’t have the phone that those messages were sent to anymore.

Also, the information of these pieces of information could be found in the file provided to Gazeta Wyborcza, the newspaper. So we should be setting up this inquiry committee. We should be calling for all of the documents involved to be made public. As a local authority, we are trying to take political steps here because we should be aware of the fact that the worst thing that can be done is to spy on the opposition and during an election campaign. Above all, you’ve know about the Watergate scandal. We’ve had Watergate of our own here. This has become quite clearly in the case of Mr. Brejza and in many cases seems quite clear as well. Those evidence in the case of Mr. Brejza. And I think this is a terrible thing. So here I think that it’s essential that we have this inquiry. On local authority, we will try and put the pressure on our parliament so that they take steps as well.

Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much, Mr. Karnowski. There are no other requests for the floor at this point, so I would just like to thank you very much once again for making yourself available to our committee at such a short notice. Apologies for the the two cuts in the in the connection during the your your contribution. But I think we we have managed to to get all the information that you were you would like to to share with us and I would also like to take you up on the offer or to send us the information that you referred to that you could still send to us. And then we’ll make sure that it also gets to all the members. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, your colleagues.

And we will continue the meeting tomorrow morning with a exchange of views with Nico van Eijk, Chair of the Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services in the Netherlands. And after that, we will have a meeting with the Spanish, the Defence Committee of the Spanish Parliament, which we were supposed to meet last week in Spain. But due to the debate on the motion of censure in Spain, we could not find the time. And they have been very kindly in accepting an offer to meet with us digitally tomorrow. I cannot promise the same level of quality in terms of snacks and drinks, but in terms of conversation, I’m sure it will be worth worthwhile. Thank you very much and see you tomorrow morning.

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