Thursday, December 03, 2009

Polish president on trial in Walesa libel case

From: AFP
A Polish court on Tuesday began hearing a libel case against President Lech Kaczynski over his claim that his predecessor and Solidarity icon Lech Walesa was a communist-era spy.

Both men regularly trade barbs in the media, but neither was present in the Warsaw court for the start of the lawsuit brought by Walesa. Both were represented by lawyers, Poland's PAP news agency reported.

Walesa is demanding that Kaczynski withdraw the claim and pay 100,000 zloty (24,000 euros, 36,000 dollars) in damages.

"A legal expert cannot behave this way, refusing to respect the verdicts of our justice system," Walesa told the Polish news channel TVN24 Tuesday, in a swipe at Kaczynski, who has a doctorate in law.

"These are nothing but lies. I was never an agent of the SB!" he later told the channel, referring to the communist-era security service.

In a television interview last year, Kaczynski repeated long-running assertions that Walesa was an agent codenamed "Bolek", mentioned in the SB's files.

Allegations about Walesa's past have surfaced regularly since the fall of Poland's communist regime in 1989, but he was cleared by a special vetting court in 2000.

Amid a dispute between the two men's lawyers over whether Kaczynski as president could even be tried by the court, the tribunal adjourned the hearing until December 18.

Walesa has acknowledged signing a secret police document on one of the many occasions he was hauled in for his opposition work in the 1970s, but has termed "absurd" the claim that he collaborated by spying on fellow activists.

Walesa and Kaczynski were allies during the struggle against the former communist regime, when shipyard electrician Walesa led the Solidarity trade union and opposition movement and later won the Nobel peace prize.

But they fell out after Walesa was elected president for a five-year term in 1990.

Kaczynski was himself elected head of state in 2005, and his supporters stepped up their battle against Walesa. The pro-Walesa camp has protested what it dubs a smear campaign.