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Poland: Officers Broke Law In Espionage Case Says Committee

Prague, 14 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - A special Polish parliamentary committee yesterday decided by a majority vote that security officials acted illegally when they made public spying allegations against former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy. But the committee stopped short of demanding that those officials be tried.

The vote, coming after more than 11 months of investigatory work, reflected the committee's political make up. Seven post-communist deputies and their Peasant allies backed the decision. Three out of four opposition members of the committee said that the officers had not broken the law. The fourth was absent. The opposition members are preparing a separate report. A single independent deputy abstained.

The parliament is to discuss the committee's reports at a later date. But it is already clear that the decision stops short of exonerating Jozef Oleksy, the former communist functionary turned top Social Democratic politician. The case is certain to remain a contentious issue in Polish politics.

The case was launched last December, when Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski formally accused sitting Prime Minister Oleksy in a speech to the parliament of having during many years (from 1983 until early 1995) knowingly maintained contacts with, and passed sensitive state information to, Soviet and later Russian intelligence agents. The accusation was based on evidence gathered by Polish intelligence officers.

Milczanowski demanded in his speech that military prosecutors investigate the case. He resigned a day later and was replaced by a post-communist politician, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski. All intelligence officers involved in the case were dismissed soon after.

Oleksy denied the charges, although he admitted having frequently met Russian diplomats who later proved security agents. Oleksy said that the charges resulted from a conspiracy of Polish intelligence service directed against him, and were but a political provocation mounted by former President Lech Walesa and his supporters. Milczanowski's charges were made a mere two days before the post-communist leader Aleksander Kwasniewski was sworn in as Poland's president.

Oleksy resigned the office in January. He subsequently was unanimously elected as head of the post-communist Social Democratic Party.

At the beginning of February, the parliamentary committee issued a preliminary report on the case, fully exonerating the intelligence officers of any illegal activities.

But in April, Poland's military prosecutors dropped the case against Oleksy, saying that they had failed to find direct and definitive evidence to press criminal charges.

During all those months and still, the Oleksy case is a favorite subject of public discussion, featured in media reports and political debates. And it is likely to stay that way.

This is because the case concerns one of the most important Polish politicians, a man who in the minds of many personifies those former communist and pro-Soviet loyalists who now present themselves as convinced democrats and ardent Polish patriots. The opposition, and many ordinary Poles as well, have always regarded this change as doubtful.

This is also because the case has touched at the most sensitive and important element of the nascent institutional structure of the democratic government. It has affected the authority of the government, striking at its very organizational heart.

And it has put into question the integrity and political loyalty of the entire Polish security organization.

Finally, the case has fueled the still prevailing atmosphere of distrust and suspicion between the post-communist groups and Poland's other political parties. And this is not likely to end any time soon, despite, and perhaps because of, the committee's reports.

The next parliamentary elections are likely to take place in the summer or fall of next year. The Oleksy case is certain to figure prominently in the electoral campaign.