Poland – Since February 26, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has been making numerous revelations about the CEO of the Polish oil company PKN Orlen. Orlen, a former state company, remains 27% state-owned, and the government of Mateusz Morawiecki therefore had a decisive influence on the appointment of a former mayor of a municipality with a population of less than 5,000, and a member of the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), to head one of the country’s most important companies. Daniel Obajtek had a meteoric career after PiS came to power in the fall of 2015.
In November of that year, he became head of the Agency for the Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture (ARiMR). In July 2016, he became chairman of the supervisory board of Polish oil company Lotos’ biofuels subsidiary, before being appointed head of Polish energy group Energa S.A. in March 2017, and finally of PKN Orlen, Poland’s oil market behemoth, in February 2018. Under the leadership of Obajtek, Orlen has acquired Energa and is about to do the same with its Polish competitor Lotos. But the Polish oil company is not content with consolidating the energy market, as it has also acquired the Ruch press distribution and sales network, and announced in early December the purchase of the Polska Press group from its German owner. The takeover, which will make it possible to “repolonize” the Polish regional press, has caused some of the opposition to cry foul and sparked a great deal of criticism abroad, as some see it as an attempt to put the newspapers concerned (20 regional newspapers out of 24, as well as specialized publications and websites) in the service of PiS.
The deal in fact fulfills PiS’ promise that it would partly “repolonize” the Polish media market, where foreign, and especially German, groups have a strong presence. That leads commentators to say that Orlen’s CEO has the full confidence of PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, and that after five and a half years of PiS governments he enjoys more power and influence than a government minister. So much so that in January and February it was rumored that the CEO of PKN Orlen might soon replace Mateusz Morawiecki as head of the Polish government, even though Obajtek himself firmly denied the existence of such a plan.
But on February 26, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, a medium that is very much opposed to PiS, published a series of recordings dating from 2009 from which it emerged that Daniel Obajtek, while he was mayor of Pcim, was at the same time managing a private company, which is prohibited by law and which he had denied under oath in the context of an investigation in which he had been implicated. Since then, Gazeta Wyborcza has been publishing new information almost daily about Obajtek’s past, about his allegedly compromising relations, including with mafia members, and about his assets, some of which the newspaper says he hid, as they exceed what his official income would normally have allowed him to acquire.
Do we finally have THE Scandal, with a capital S, the one that will make it possible to get rid of PiS, as happened before to the post-communist SLD and to Tusk’s liberal PO?