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What is the Justice Minister afraid of?

Save for the President himself, Zbigniew Ziobro is Poland’s most heavily protected politician.

Jeruzal, a village located deep in the forest near the town of Skierniewice. 60 km away from Warsaw and about 10 km away from the nearest highway leading to the capital city.

Surrounded by a tall concrete fence, the house, together with multiple associated outbuildings, stands near a sandy road in the middle of the forest on the outskirts of the village.  It’s not easy to find. A man we’ve approached outside a local grocery store is showing us the way. All the locals know where the minister resides.

Strefa EPR 123 w JeruzaluStrefa EPR 123 w Jeruzalu Gazeta Wyborcza

Looking at aeronautical charts of the Jeruzal village, one sees the EPR 123 zone perimeter marked around the area. It’s a flight-restriction zone. Planes and drones (with the exception of military aircraft, search and rescue aircraft, or air transport with the HEAD flight status) flying at an altitude lower than 600m are prohibited from entering the airspace. The very center of the restricted zone is situated above the Justice Minister’s estate, somewhere between his house and a garage.

The would-be assassin sits in prison

The Justice Ministry confirmed the information we found on aeronautical charts. Its press office sent us an email which reads: „The area has been designated a no-fly zone for drones at the request of the State Protection Service (SOP) in connection with the information that Jan S., suspected of leading a transnational organized crime group selling so-called synthetic “legal highs”, commissioned an assassination of the Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro. In a supposed act of retribution following the Justice Minister’s initiative to introduce a ban on selling “legal highs”, the suspect had offered PLN 100.000 to a man specializing in the construction of explosive devices to assassinate the minister. Still having assets worth millions at his disposal, the suspect fled abroad, presenting a real security threat”.

Indeed, at beginning of this year, the media reported about a planned assassination attempt on Zbigniew Ziobro. However, the suspect who commissioned the murder- “the king of legal highs”- has been arrested and is now serving his prison sentence together with the would-be hired assassins.

After the information about plans to assassinate him got out, the Justice Minister said that the incident “only proves that a hard-line approach towards fighting crime is merited”.

Limousines stuck in mud

The Justice Minister’s estate covers an area of about 1 hectare (2,5 acres). Exactly when he started the construction remains unknown. Ziobro purchased the land in April 2015. Back then, it was all just a forest. The contraction work began about three years ago.

There’s a security camera on every corner. His neighbours say they spotted as many as 14.

When the minister arrives here in the summer, a cloud of dust raises from behind the limousines driven by his security service. When it rains, it happens that the limousines get stuck in mud. The nearest asphalt concrete road is about 2 km away. – Maybe they’ll build him a road someday, that’s what we though when he moved here, anyway- says one of the neighbours.

Zbigniew Ziobro: a strategic object

Polish law prohibits flights over cities, but also above strategic objects and facilities related to national security.

Such objects include, for example: oil refineries in Gdańsk and Płock, the reactor in Świerk, the LNG terminal in Świnoujście, or buildings and facilities in Wawer and Kiejkuty belonging to the Polish Intelligence Services. The airspace above the center of Warsaw is a no-fly zone as well, given such buildings as, for instance, the parliament or the president’s office. Moreover, military training sites and national parks also fall within the scope of flight-restriction zones.

When the president visits his summer residence in Jurata, the airspace above the estate becomes temporarily designated as a no-fly zone, too. Similar flying restrictions were introduced over the village of Ruska Buda- a place where president Bronisław Komorowski used to go on vacation.

Aeronautical charts containing information about flight-restriction zones are constantly updated, but the no-fly area above Jeruzal isn’t even listed in the apps that drone pilots need to log into each time before they can take off.

Aviation law foresees heavy penalties for violating the restricted airspace. Unintentional violations will be punished with fines or a year in prison. Breaking the law on purpose could mean up to five years in prison.

Jeruzal. An estate with no address

There’s no mention of the Jeruzal estate in the minister’s consecutive asset declarations published on the Parliament’s website. His declarations for the year 2015-19 list a plot of forest and agricultural land, but no house.

Only his asset declaration for September 2019 indicates that in 2018 Ziobro received a loan of PLN 250.000 to build the house, and that it was given him by the PKO BP bank. The minister took advantage of the “place of my own” program. He also took a loan of PLN 21.000 from the Environmental Protection Bank to build a solar panel installation.

According to this particular declaration, the minister is conducting a „building project”. It is a “single-family house under construction” with an area of 133 sq meters. Costs: PLN 586.000. In fact, the house has already been built long ago. However, in the minister’s most recent asset declaration it is still listed as “under construction”.

By now, the entire plot has been carefully levelled, and the site includes a large two-storey house, a wooden 2 car garage, and an associated outbuilding. Behind it, there’s a forest. The nearest neighbouring building is about 200m away. According to the reports of his neighbours, Ziobro and his family visit the house even several times a week.

Other than the house in Jeruzal, in his declaration of assets, Ziobro lists a 125 sq m apartment and owning a third of yet another house (85 sq m). Moreover, he also owns an agricultural land covering an area of 73 ares (1.8 acres) and two plots of forest/agricultural land: 1.1 and 1.4 hectares.

Earlier this year, „Wyborcza” launched an investigation into the rumours surrounding the murky status of the minister’s house. It turned out that Ziobro did everything in accordance with the law. He bought a plot of land in Jeruzal covering 1 hectare and 70 sq meters. He got lucky. A year later, the Law and Justice government introduced restrictions on agricultural land transactions. Since then, only farmers can sell agricultural land to other farmers.

In the land register, Ziobro's estate is listed as an „agricultural real estate”. The local land registry records for the area of Jeruzal describes it a „ plot of land with no assigned address”. According to the information provided by the Ministry of Justice, in 2017, Ziobro received a green light to designate a part of the land for construction work purposes under specific conditions.

The government’s richest minister

According to our sources, Zbigniew Ziobro is the most protected politician in the Law and Justice government. He is driven around in an armoured car usually escorted by one or two other vehicles. There’s a designated no-fly zone above his private estate- a special protection measure normally available only to the President.

Ziobro also happens to be the best paid member of the current government.

As already mentioned in another article of ours, Ziobro receives a separate salary for his role of the Minister of Justice and Public Prosecutor General. Although he has never been a prosecutor, he receives an additional monthly prosecutorial allowance. If added up, he earns more than both the prime minister and the president.  

According to his consecutive asset declarations, Ziobro’s monthly income consists of four elements: the minister's salary – PLN 14.300 gross (PLN 169.000 a year), the supplement for serving as public prosecutor general- PLN 5.300 (PLN 64.000 a year), the parliamentary allowance – PLN 2.500 (29.800 a year) and PLN 833 (almost 10.000 a year) for sitting on the National Judicial Council. In sum, he receives over PLN 19.000 a month. 

What really boosts his monthly income is the salary supplement for serving as public prosecutor general, and it’s increasing every year: in 2017, it amounted to PLN 44.000 a year. Next year, it was already 60.000. Currently, it’s 64.000. As we read in the email sent us by the Ministry of Justice: „The statutory basis for the supplementary allowance to which the Public Prosecutor General and other prosecutors are entitled is Article 124 sec. 10 of the Law on the Public Prosecutor's Office. The statutory authority to issue a regulation determining the amount of the supplementary allowance to which prosecutors in particular positions are entitled, in turn, is contained in Article 124 sec. 12”.

The legislation cited by the ministry was introduced by Law and Justice on January 28, 2016. Ziobro started receiving his prosecutorial supplement since 2017.

We looked into the legislation. It concerns the salaries of prosecutors and carefully estimates the amount of their salaries and supplementary allowances. They depend on the amount of professional experience and position. The problem is, in his entire life, Zbigniew Ziobro has never been professionally active as a prosecutor. For a short period of time, he worked as a prosecutor's assessor (in other words: a candidate for a prosecutor). After graduating from the Jagiellonian University (1994) he started his prosecutorial training in Kraków. He finished it in 1997 in Katowice. Following our article, the opposition called on the National Audit Office to address the issue of the legality of Ziobro’s earnings. The National Audit Office initiated the procedure, but so far, it has not yet been concluded.

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