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Just like his client, attorney Zaborowski is another beneficiary of the current political power structure. Mr. Zaborowski is a former assistant to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Zbigniew Ziobro, and continues to represent him in court, be it in civil cases or otherwise. Since the Law and Justice party came to power, Mr. Zaborowski has been appointed to the supervisory boards of the State Insurance Company (PZU) and the national rail operator PKP Intercity. Moreover, multiple state-owned companies regularly turn to his law firm for legal services.

At the beginning of March, Mr. Zaborowski organized a publicity stunt in front of the Warsaw headquarters of "Wyborcza", demanding - on behalf of Daniel Obajtek - that the articles about Orlen’s CEO be removed and that we refrain from writing any more of them. Orlen refused to answer whether Mr. Obajtek paid for the lawyer from his own pocket or if the expenses were covered by the state-owned company. However, as we already reported, we got hold of the documents in which Orlen authorizes Mr. Zaborowski and his colleague Hubert Kubik to represent and act on the company’s behalf. The document is dated September 14, 2020. What’s important, the power of attorney does not refer to a specific case, but to an entire category: "to represent the company in court and pre-court procedures on all matters concerning the protection of personal rights and press law”. The document has been signed by Orlen's CEO Daniel Obajtek and its vice-president Armen Artwich.

On February 26, we published the first big story entitled "Obajtek’s Tapes. The Shady Business and Thunderous Career of Orlen's CEO". In it, we revealed a number of phone conversations from 2009 between Mr. Obajtek (who back then was still the mayor of Pcim) and the sales director of the company TT Plast. Mr. Obajtek orders him to do specific things to boost the company’s income: which customers to go to, what prices and margins to set. Doing so, he violates the Act on the Local Government, which clearly forbids elected mayors to manage private companies while serving their term.

Since then, "Wyborcza" published over a dozen of articles about Mr. Obajtek’s past, wealth, and staggering career.

Mr. Zaborowski has already filed one lawsuit. A massive one. It consists of 123 pages and includes hundreds of pages of various attachments. It concerns an article from March 14 entitled "Wyborcza’s Investigation: Mr. Obajtek Got a Million-zloty Discount on an Apartment, and Orlen Became a Sponsor of the Real Estate Developer's Football Academy". In it, we revealed that in November 2018 Mr. Obajtek and his partner paid as little as PLN 6,900 per square meter for a 187-square-meter penthouse located in an exclusive gated community in Warsaw - the most expensive real estate project in the Bemowo district at the time. The official price listed by the real estate developer was PLN 12,499 per square meter. What’s more, the buyers put only PLN 500.000 down payment on the apartment, and the real estate developer credited the remaining PLN 800.000 for one year. Coincidentally, in the same month, Orlen became a sponsor of the Profbud Beniaminek Krosno Football Academy, sponsored by the mentioned real estate developer.

[For an overview of Mr. Obajtek’s scandals in English, please see the following article]

Attempts to silence free press with SLAPP suits

Mr. Obajtek’s lawyer also continues to swamp us with demands for rectification. We received 27 in total, most of them concerning the price at which the Orlen CEO and his partner bought the exclusive Warsaw penthouse. All of them are almost identical, only referring to different articles. Moreover, we received over a dozen of pre-trial subpoenas concerning the same publications.

This makes it all the more interesting to find out whether the lawyer is paid on a "per piece" or "flat rate" basis, and whether his services are being paid for by the state-owned company Orlen or from Mr. Obajtek’s private pocket. Unfortunately, we still haven’t received an answer.

It is attorney Zaborowski’s signature method he has been using for years. He systematically targets "Wyborcza" on behalf of Minister Ziobro and his deputies, artificially multiplying lawsuits regarding the same publication. For instance, once he files a suit on behalf of Mr. Ziobro as a private person, and then on behalf of his public function as the Minister of Justice.

When dismissing Minister Ziobro’s case against "Wyborcza" in December 2020, the Court of Appeals in Warsaw strongly criticized the legal strategy aimed at inflating the number of lawsuits: "Demanding the same information to be corrected twice by the same entity is an unacceptable action and constitutes an unjustified form of repressing the press by imposing on it the obligation to publish the same corrections several times. This practice may have a 'chilling effect’. As a result, it may threaten the freedom of speech and press freedom, effectively discouraging the press from taking up important and controversial public issues”.

The legal strategy employed by attorney Zaborowski and his client Mr. Obajtek has a specific name: SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. These lawsuits are intended to draw media outlets into expensive legal battles, forcing them to fend off endless legal attacks such as civil and public lawsuits, unwarranted calls for rectification and apology, pre-trial subpoenas, etc., in order to prevent them from criticizing individuals and institutions that have the power and resources to carry out such attacks.

This is what the so-called "chilling effect" aimed at discouraging or deterring the media from public criticism is all about. It leads to the erosion of the media’s essential role in a democratic society. Among Poland’s independent media outlets, "Wyborcza" holds a record for the number of SLAPP-type attacks issued by the ruling camp, its institutions, and affiliates. So far, we have received nearly 70 such claims. In many cases, they only concern a single article or even just one sentence.

The SLAPP procedure is opposed by many international organizations defending press freedom and civil rights. A joint article calling on the European Union to put an end to SLAPP was signed by about 100 NGOs. Multiple EU media outlets published the joint call on November 16, 2020.

„Wyborcza” will not back down

In the days to come, “Wyborcza” intends to continue publishing new articles about Mr. Obajtek’s past, his wealth, and connections. This coming Monday, we will reveal the “network” behind his staggering career and his relations with it.

***

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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