Poles upset by corruption allegations against freedom hero

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Former Polish president and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa said Thursday that he doesn’t believe corruption allegations that prosecutors have made against another key activist of the 1980s freedom movement.

In a case that has shocked the nation and investigators themselves, prosecutors are seeking the arrest of Jozef Pinior, who was senator for a centrist party from 2011-2015 and European Parliament lawmaker from 2004-2009. They also want to put Pinior’s assistant and another person under arrest, in the same case.

Prosecutor Piotr Baczynski said that it was a “very difficult decision” for him because he considers Pinior a national hero, but insisted he had sufficient evidence that Pinior accepted around 46,000 zlotys ($11,000) in bribes in 2015 while he was a senator. Baczynski twice interrupted his announcement and left the briefing, explaining on return that he needed to control his emotions.

Pinior denies the allegations and says he wants to stand trial and defend himself. If convicted, he could face up to eight years in prison.

His lawyer, Jacek Dubios, said prosecutors haven’t talked to him and have failed to question all the witnesses.

A group of people picketed in defense of Pinior in court in the western city of Poznan where the arrest motion was being weighed.

In a daring 1981 action, Pinior, with some colleagues, saved the Solidarity movement’s 80 million zlotys ($19 million) from being seized by communist authorities, shortly before they imposed martial law. The money was deposited with local Catholic Church authorities and was used to finance Solidarity underground anti-communist activity and to support persecuted activists and their families.

Walesa said he knows Pinior to be “honest to the maximum, dedicated to the maximum” and stressed Pinior, who was Solidarity treasurer in the Wroclaw region, took good care of huge amounts of money.

The allegations are “beyond comprehension. I just don’t believe them,” Walesa said.

Critics of the one-year-old conservative government say its anti-corruption policy is mainly being used against political opponents.