Espionage scandal in Poland: escape from Poland to Belarus

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Written By Maya Cantina

Polish judge Tomasz Szmyt is alleged to have spied for Belarus. He has now applied for asylum there. The scandal is likely to spread further.

A man holds his personal document in front of the cameras during a press conference

Tomasz Szmydt at a press conference in Minsk after arriving in Belarus Photo: BelTA/Maxim Guchek/via Reuters

WARSAW taz | A Pole asking for political asylum on Belarusian state television has seemed impossible until now. Shocked and bewildered, all of Poland is now discussing why Tomasz Szmydt switched sides and became a spy for Belarus.

The man was a judge at the Administrative Court in Warsaw and, as has now become known, had access to secret information. After a hastily convened meeting of all heads of intelligence services who had to report on their knowledge of the influence of Russia and Belarus on Polish ministries and high offices Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Wednesday with a serious face in front of the cameras: “It’s not just Tomasz Szmydt. The problem is bigger.”

Apparently Poland’s domestic secret service had already taken a closer look at Szmydt. But someone must have warned him so that he could leave the country unmolested and move east. He had already been in Belarus for several weeks in 2023, indicating that his escape was prepared. However, the whole history is still unclear: was he poached? If so, when and by whom? And what information has he already passed on to the secret services of Belarus and Russia?

Szmydt had already made negative headlines in 2019 when his active role in the infamous ‘hate affair’ came to light. At the time, Szmydt worked at the Ministry of Justice and headed the legal office of the National Judicial Council (KRS), which decided the careers of all of Poland’s approximately 8,000 judges – from initial appointments through transfers and promotions until their retirement.

Szmydt’s ex-wife fed the troll factory with rumors

Under Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, a secret department was set up at the ministry to denigrate and thus silence critical judges. Ziobros Judicial reforms were controversial from the start. Some judges, lawyers and professors protested vehemently. It is still unknown whether all members of the troll factory at the ministry knew each other. They communicated online via WhatsApp using the code word ‘kasta’.

Emilia Szmydt, Szmydt’s ex-wife, provided the trolls with rumors, true and fictional stories, as well as details about the judges’ intimate lives, which should be publicly discredited. However, reports to the Public Prosecution Service yielded no results, as prosecutors also reported Ziobro and only rarely investigated cases of defamation.

After Emilia Szmydt, disguised on the internet as ‘mala Emi’ (little Emi), was exposed and then publicly told more about the troll factory at the Polish Ministry of Justice, her ex-husband also admitted in an interview in 2022 that he was one of these trolls.

Szmydt subsequently lost his job at the State Judicial Council and was no longer allowed to work at the Warsaw Administrative Court, but returned there after a certain period of time. He was responsible for vetting people who would be denied access to classified information.

PiS-Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński In an initial statement he shifted all blame to Donald Tusk. Ziobro claimed he had never had contact with Szmydt, even though he was a department head at his ministry. The Public Prosecution Service has been investigating since Thursday.

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