Poland's Tusk calls secret services meeting to address judge's defection to Belarus

WARSAW, Poland (AP) —

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk called Tuesday for a special meeting of the secret services to discuss alleged Russian and Belarusian infiltration after a Polish judge who had access to sensitive state information defected to Belarus.

Authorities in NATO and European Union member Poland are investigating the judge, Tomasz Szmydt, on suspicions that he was acting on behalf of a foreign intelligence service.

The Polish government said in a statement Tuesday that “Szmydt had constant and direct access to classified information. He has also been in contact with Belarusians for a long time. This situation should be of the utmost concern.”

Tusk announced the meeting of the the Secret Services College for Wednesday, saying it would focus on “alleged Russian and Belarusian influence in the Polish power apparatus."

Earlier Tuesday, a Polish official said bugging devices were found in a room where the Polish Cabinet was scheduled to meet. Another official later said the equipment was part of an old sound system in the building, but the incident underlined anxieties in Poland over warnings that Russia is increasing its activities against the West amid the war in neighboring Ukraine.

“Every day there is new information about various strange events that are directly or indirectly related to the aggressive presence of Russian and Belarusian services in Europe,” Tusk said.

Szmydt fled Poland and then held a news conference Monday in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, saying that he was forced to leave Poland due to disagreements with the current authorities.

The fact that the judge would defect to Belarus, an authoritarian state allied with Russia that has large numbers of political prisoners, has shocked many people in Poland.

Tusk's pro-EU government took power in December vowing to restore democratic norms after eight years of rule by the right-wing Law and Justice party, which carried out changes to the judicial system that gave the party more power over the courts and judicial bodies. The EU said the process eroded the democratic separation of powers.

Szmydt, a judge at the provincial administrative court in Warsaw, gained notoriety in 2019 when he and his then wife engaged in an online smear campaign against judges critical of the judicial changes made by Law and Justice.

Szmydt said he resigned because he felt persecuted by the new authorities. He said he was protesting “against the unfair and harmful policy pursued by the authorities of the Republic of Poland towards the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation.”

Some of Tusk's opponents accused him of trying to implicate the current political opposition in the actions of the judge.

Stanisław Żaryn, an advisor to President Andrzej Duda who is an opponent of Tusk’s government, called Szmydt a “traitor” on said on X that the debate around him has “turned into a propaganda game" about which political camp he should be associated with.

“I pay attention to security issues. This traitor is another signal that Poland is in the crosshairs of Russia’s services,” said Żaryn, who was a spokesman for the security services under the past government led by Law and Justice.

Tusk suggested Szmydt's case could be linked to foreign country's stepping up hostile actions in connection with the elections June 6-9 for the European Parliament.