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Last week, we published a series of recorded phone calls between Daniel Obajtek and an employee of a plastic pipes manufacturer TT Plast. The calls took place in 2009.
At the time Obajtek was the mayor of Pcim, a town of 10 thousand people located an hour away from Cracow. During their conversations, Obajtek was giving his interlocutor orders concerning which potential clients to reach out to, what prices he should offer them, and how to best negotiate with them to reach the company objectives.
In essence, the recorded exchanges give a clear impression that Obajtek was running TT Plast. According to the Polish law on local government, however, elected mayors are not allowed to manage private companies while serving their term.
In 2014, Obajtek testified during a trial concerning misuse of EU funds by another plastic pipes manufacturer – Elektroplast, a company owned by his uncles. Before he was elected as mayor of Pcim, Obajtek spent his entire professional career working there.
The recordings revealed by Wyborcza show that while Obajtek was de facto running TT Plast in 2009, he was trying to force his former employer out of business. In one conversation, he mentioned that he had commercially sensitive information about Elektroplast’s business which he obtained with the help from “his person on the inside”. During the trial, however, Obajtek denied having any close relations with TT Plast.
The journalistic investigation revealed that prosecutors in Cracow had access to the recordings already in October 2016. However, they refused to launch an investigation concerning possible perjury by the current CEO of Orlen.
At that point, the prosecutor’s office was already under the control of Zbigniew Ziobro, the current Minister of Justice. Obajtek, meanwhile, saw a meteoric career rise after the victory of the Law and Justice in 2015. By the time that prosecutors refused to investigate him, he was heading one of the largest executive agencies in Poland – the Agency for Restructuring and Modernisation of Agriculture, tasked with distribution of the EU agricultural funds.
The prosecutor’s office also rescinded an indictment in another case concerning Obajtek. In 2013, he was accused of belonging to an organized crime group that was siphoning money away from Elektroplast. In addition, he was accused of taking bribes in return for using his office to manipulate public procurement tenders. In 2017, Obajtek’s role was removed from the indictment to be treated as a separate case, which was quickly discontinued.
“Historians will mention Obajtek's name as one of the most important people of our era”
At that point, the former mayor of Pcim climbed another step in his career ladder – he was managing of the state-owned energy company Energa. A year later, in 2018, he became the CEO of Orlen, the state-owned oil giant and the largest company in the Central and Eastern Europe region in terms of market capitalization.
Obajtek was seen as “the golden boy” of the ruling camp. Last December, Orlen announced that it was taking over Polska Press, one of the largest publishers in Poland which owns 20 of the 24 regional dailies in Poland, as well as weeklies and online services that reach more than 17 million users.
In response, Jarosław Kaczyński repeatedly heaped praise on Obajtek over the last months.
During an interview in late January, the chairman of the Law and Justice party stated that the CEO of Orlen” has already done a lot for Poland and I am convinced that he will do much, much more”. Kaczyński also expressed his belief that " historians will very often mention Obajtek's name as one of the most important people of our era, an era that I hope will last as long as possible. I don't want to use the term "star" here, because it might not be the best term in this context, but he is really an exceptional man”.
Many commentators were convinced that Poland’s de facto ruler was grooming Obajtek to become the next Prime Minister.
A “star” with a “God-given aura” or a swindler who takes care of his familia?
It is difficult to reconcile the portrait of Obajtek painted by Kaczyński with the person caught on tape skirting the boundaries the law and scheming to destroy his uncles’ company that got him his first career start.
While Kaczyński mused gleefully about Obajtek’s “God-given quality that is hard to define, that aura which he creates around himself, which allows him to mobilize people, to unite people around a shared goal”, the expletive-ladden recordings paint a picture of a spiteful, ruthless and power-hungry local swindler.
Obajtek hoped that his past experience working for Elektroplast coupled with sensitive commercial information about the company’s contracts should make it easy for TT Plast to force their competitor out of the market. Reality proved more complicated.
During one of the recorded conversations, the then-mayor of Pcim vented his frustrations in a remarkably vulgar rant:
“That son of a b*tch, that f*cking, dirty d*ck. It f*cking annoys me, you know, but what can I do? All I ever hear about from our customers is that f*cking Elektroplast. If we got rid of Lis [Obajtek’s uncle and owner of Elektroplast], we could raise the prices by 5-to-6 percent, things would be different then. But now it’s always Lis this, Lis that, I am so fed up with this. Old prick, he should be long retired by now… I’m f*cking losing my ability to think straight.”
After Wyborcza published the recordings, it verified how, in the words of Kaczyński, Obajtek “mobilizes and united people around a shared goal”. It discovered a vest network of his former employees and family members in high-level managerial positions in government and state-owned companies.
Zofia Paryła first worked with Obajtek for Elektroplast, before moving to the Pcim town’s administration after he became the mayor. Until 2017, Paryła was the head accountant at the local social welfare center in Pcim. Now she is the CEO of Lotos, a Polish oil distribution giant that was purchased by Orlen in 2020. Before the merger, Lotos was the eight largest company in Central Eastern Europe by market capitalization.
Grzegorz Obajtek, the cousin of Orlen’s CEO, is a director at the state-owned energy company Tauron Bioeko. Another former employee of Elektroplast sits at the management board of Unipetrol, Czechia's only oil refining company and one of the largest firms in the country. Since 2004, Unipetrol owned by Orlen. Obajtek’s brother is the regional director of State Forests, an executive agency in charge of managing state-owned Polish forests. Until 2015, he was an ordinary employee at the regional branch that he is now managing.
Legal threats with little substance
In reponse to the series of articles detailing Obajtek’s controversial past activities and the fast-paced careers of his friends and family members in state-controlled institutions, his attorney organized a press conference in front of Gazeta Wyborcza’s headquarters.
During this peculiar event, which can be perhaps best characterized as an homage to Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s legal team, attorney Maciej Zaborowski waggled a supposed legal summons demanding that Wyborcza removes all articles concerning our investigation into Obajtek within 72 hours, requiring public apologies from Wyborcza’s editor-in-chief, the investigative journalists who first reported on the issue, and the CEO of Agora SA, the owner of Gazeta Wyborcza; and sending 200 thousand zlotys (55 thousand dollars) to a charity of Obajtek’s choice.
When pressed by journalists over whether he would send the summons to court in case of non-compliance, Zaborowski was surprisingly non-committal. The “legal document” he presented to the press did not contain any specific proofs that would counter our claims, and instead was limited to vague accusations of “presenting falsehoods” and “destroying Obajtek’s good name”.
Gazeta Wyborcza staunchly refused to comply with the demands presented by Obajtek's attorney.
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