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19 Jan, 2024 17:44

Poland drops deal with UK lawyer to sue Russia

A long-shot lawsuit over the 2010 presidential plane crash was purely political, Warsaw has said
Poland drops deal with UK lawyer to sue Russia

Warsaw does not intend to pay a million zloty to a British barrister for a futile case against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has announced.

On Thursday, the Polish news channel TVN24 revealed that the previous government had signed a deal with human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson, offering to pay him the equivalent of $250,000 to sue Moscow over the 2010 death of President Lech Kaczynski and other top officials in a plane crash in Russia.

Within hours of taking office, Sikorski posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he was terminating the agreement.

“Submitting an application that has no even theoretical chance of success exposes the state and taxpayers to unjustified expenses,” the minister said.

Kaczynski was among the 96 people on board the Polish Air Force Tu-154M that crashed outside Smolensk on April 10, 2010, while attempting to land in thick fog. Russian and Polish investigators alike concluded that the crew was flying too low and struck a line of trees. 

The late president’s twin brother Jaroslaw – leader of the recently deposed Law and Justice (PiS) party – disagreed and set up a second commission in 2015 after coming to power in Warsaw. The group was led by Antoni Macierewicz, the deputy leader of PiS. 

Macierewicz’s commission entertained all sorts of conspiracy theories about the crash, speculating that Russia somehow planted a bomb on board, or that Russian air traffic control misled the Polish pilots, or that Donald Tusk – the current prime minister who was then minister of defense – was somehow responsible.

According to TVN24, Macierewicz and Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau signed the letter of intent with Emmerson on October 10 last year, just days before the general election, in which PiS ended up falling short of a governing majority.

“The case is outrageous,” Pawel Wronski, the new spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told TVN24, pointing out that the Polish government could have put it together better and without involving an expensive foreign attorney. Wronski also described the odds of a favorable verdict as “minimal, even theoretically,” mainly because Russia left the ECHR in 2022.

When Tusk’s Civic Platform coalition took power in mid-December, it swiftly moved to shut down the Smolensk Commission, calling its activities politically motivated and “lies in the name of the Polish state.” 

Macierewicz apparently ignored the government’s orders, holding a meeting of the commission on December 18 and telling the Polish media he would sue Russia before the ECHR for the “murder” of the president. Speaking to the broadcaster Polsat afterward, he described the Smolensk disaster as “the first Russian attack on a NATO country.”