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The case concerning the purchase of ventilators is investigated under Article 296 § 3 of the Penal Code, foreseeing a punishment of up to ten years in prison for negligence or abuse of power leading to the mismanagement of public funds.

The Prosecutor’s Office line of argument

According the Prosecutor’s Office, the law introduced to manage COVID-19 pandemic and its outcomes does not exempt public officials from their responsibility for transactions made during the pandemic, even though the extraordinary circumstances should be taken into account.

-Even if the introduced measures have simplified many procedures and allowed to purchase medical equipment and supplies directly, they did not decriminalize the mismanagement of public funds. In other words- even though the circumstances allowed to make direct purchases, officials buying goods at a much higher price, i.e. mismanaging public funds, can still be held criminally liable – one of the legal authorities told “Rzeczpospolita”.

Although two separate cases, the purchase of ventilators and masks will be under a single investigation. After all, decisions about both transactions were made by the same officials and both contracts were signed at the same time.

Ventilators controversy

The controversy surrounding the purchase of ventilators was initially revealed by “Wyborcza”. On April 14, at 9:30 a.m., the Ministry has contracted a company from Lublin, E&K, to deliver the ventilators. The company never sold medical equipment before. Its owner, Andrzej Izdebski, had sent the Ministry 4 invoices for a total amount of EUR 35 mln (PLN 160 mln). The Health Ministry issued the first transfer at 1:02 p.m., the next three followed within a timespan of 20 minutes.  

Initially, the transaction was supposed to include 1241 ventilators purchased for PLN 200 mln (averaging PLN 160 thousand per unit. A high-class ventilator produced by a renowned company costs about PLN 70-80 thousand), with the first delivery to take place in April.

In the end, E&K provided only 200 units, delivering the first few of them only in early June. The company returned EUR 14 mln.

Around the same time (April 15), the Ministry of Health had a chance to join a ventilator procurement launched by the EU and buy the equipment directly from the producers.

Masks controversy

A previous investigation by “Wyborcza’s” journalists had disclosed that the Ministry of Health spent over PLN 5 mln on 120 thousand overpriced protective facemasks without even inspecting their quality beforehand. The person benefitting from the transaction was the Health Minister’s friend and ski-instructor. The Minister’s brother had played the role of a middle-man and the Deputy Minister of Health, Janusz Cieszyński, finalized the transaction.

It was Janusz Cieszyński, the Deputy Minister, who pushed for amending the COVID 19 law with Article 10c- an article intended to give impunity to those who, by acting on behalf of the public interest in a situation of distress and greater necessity, have purchased goods and services necessary to fight the epidemic

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