Polish prosecutor Mikolaj Przybyl says he shot himself at press conference to expose government corruption

By Agence France-Presse

The Polish military prosecutor who shot himself in the head on Monday and survived is already talking, saying his suicide attempt was an effort to expose what he called “serious corruption” in defence procurement contracts.

Colonel Mikolaj Przybyl shot himself on Monday during a break in a press conference in Poznan, western Poland, at which he had spoken about issues his office was probing, notably claims of high-level corruption in the Polish military.

“My act was influenced by the cases I am investigating: one of them is the most serious involving financial issues in the Polish military,” Col. Przybyl told Poland’s PAP news agency Tuesday as he recovered from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his cheek.

He is expected to leave hospital within days.

He said his act was intended to prevent the dismantling of the institution of military prosecutors, and that his recent high-level corruption probe had sped up steps being taken to get rid of military prosecutors and replace them with civilians.

“I was defending the people, whom I know and who do excellent work. I wanted the prosecutor’s office to survive,” he said.

In his news conference, Col. Przybyl had criticized media leaks from the ongoing probe into the 2010 crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, mostly senior Polish military officials, in Smolensk, western Russia.

Reporters at the conference said Col. Przybyl then asked them to leave the room so that he could take, in his words, “a break”.

“We heard a loud thud and we went back into the room thinking one of the cameras had fallen over. Then we saw the prosecutor motionless on the ground in a pool of blood, with a gun beside him,” one journalist told Polish television.
President Bronislaw Komorowski has described the incident as “disturbing”.

His life was not in danger, officials said, but the apparent suicide attempt quickly triggered a public dispute between the heads of Poland’s military and civilian prosecution services over plans, criticized by Col. Przybyl, to merge the two.

Several news outlets showed footage of Col. Przybyl’s body behind his desk before an ambulance took him to hospital. A doctor later told local media his team was still looking for the bullet that had lodged in the prosecutor’s head.

Andrzej Seremet, Poland’s chief prosecutor, said he had disagreed with some of Col. Przybyl’s comments at the Poznan news conference.

Military prosecutors had been right to seek journalists’ mobile phone records while searching for the source of leaks in the Smolensk investigation, but they had broken the law by also seeking access to text messages, said Mr. Seremet.

“This case has been accompanied by so much emotion, including unnecessary hysteria, in my view,” said Mr. Seremet, who also contradicted Col. Przybyl’s assertion that the civil and military prosecution services were to be merged, saying no final decisions had been taken.

Poland’s top military prosecutor, Krzysztof Parulski, told a separate news conference he fully backed all Col. Przybyl’s comments and actions over leaks from the Smolensk investigation.

Mr. Parulski accused Mr. Seremet, his civilian supervisor, of acting unethically by seeking a separate analysis into the work of the military prosecutors and making it public before a court ruling.

Mr. Parulski said Col. Przybyl had faced numerous threats, including a break-in at his apartment and damage to his car, aimed at intimidating him and stalling other investigations the prosecutor was leading over possible financial misconduct within the army.

Col. Przybyl backed up those claims, and said there was a contract out to kill him.

“I know there was a million zloty (US$782,000) price on my head,” said Col. Przybyl.

President Bronislaw Komorowski said in a statement he was “concerned” about the incident and asked the national security bureau to monitor the situation.

The Smolensk crash investigation remains a very sensitive political issue for Poland and for its relations with Moscow.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who leads the main opposition party and was twin brother of the late president, has accused Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government of collaborating with Moscow to cause the crash and of later conniving with Russia to cover up its real causes.

The government says such claims are absurd.

Since taking office in late 2007, Mr. Tusk has tried to improve relations with Moscow that have long been strained over energy, security and other issues. But disagreements over the investigation into the Smolensk crash have chilled the atmosphere.