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After publishing a series of investigative articles about Daniel Obajtek’s dubious business practices and his murky past, "Wyborcza" was flooded with dozens of official letters by the Orlen CEO’s representative- attorney Maciej Zaborowski (who also happens to represent the state-owned company itself).

On behalf of his client, the attorney submitted 39 claims for rectification and one 123-page civil lawsuit for the infringement of personal rights. The latter concerns an investigative article written by Paweł Figurski and Jarosław Sidorowicz entitled “Mr. Obajtek Got a Million-zloty Discount on an Apartment, and Orlen Became a Sponsor of the Real Estate Developer's Football Academy".

Among other things, Mr Obajtek demanded that the court issue a controversial interim measure - a one-year ban on the publication of articles related to the massive discount the Orlen CEO received on the purchase of a luxury penthouse in Warsaw. In practice, this would mean hindering a journalistic investigation and imposing preventive censorship.

The court: the investigation is in the public’s interest

Mr Obajtek and his attorney have just suffered their first defeat in court. Recently, “Wyborcza” has learned that on March 29 the District Court in Warsaw rejected Mr Obajtek’s bid to gag our editors and journalists. Strictly speaking: it dismissed his request to impose a one-year ban on publishing articles, as well as comments made via press, radio, television, the internet, and posts on Facebook or Twitter.

This includes information and statements suggesting that in exchange for Orlen's sponsorship of the Profbud Beniaminek Krosno Football Academy, Mr Obajtek received a nearly PLN 1 million discount on the purchase of a 187-square-meter luxury penthouse (while the official price listed by the real estate developer was PLN 12,499 per square meter, the Orlen CEO paid only PLN 6,900).

"The ban on publication (...) requested by the plaintiff did not merit consideration because of the significance of the public interest" – reads the justification of the court’s decision. According to the court, the ban could not be imposed "as it would limit the freedom of the press and criticism, which, due to the nature of Mr Obajtek's public function, is socially desirable.

Issuing such a ban would constitute unjustified interference, exceeding permissible norms of a democratic society”.

In dismissing Mr Obatek's motion, the court pointed out that it was all the more justified because "the plaintiff failed to present objective evidence clearly confirming that the discount he was given by the real estate developer was not as high as the article claimed it was”.

The court rejected yet another of Mr Obajtek’s claims

While Mr Obajtek hardly ever mentions that the court rejected his bid to censor “Wyborcza”, on Twitter, he is flaunting the fact that another part of his claim was granted. It concerns a reference in the disputed text mentioning the fact that it is the subject of a lawsuit for the protection of personal rights. Such references are a standard and are only meant to notify the readers that a lawsuit is pending.

At the same time, the court did not agree to issue a measure obliging the accused party to pay a specific sum of money for the sake of securing claims, as requested by Mr Zaborowski. The attorney asked that the court issue a penalty of PLN 5,000 for each day of breach of the ordered injunction. According to the court, however, enforcing the measure would contradict the principle of imposing the least possible burden.

At the beginning of April, Mr Obajtek tweeted a screenshot of the disputed article published on the Wyborcza.pl website. He modified its original content to include a reference about the article being the subject of legal proceedings.

"This is what the Gazeta Wyborcza article containing false information should look like. The paper’s editors are evading the court order. Yet, I’m convinced that the truth will prevail and we will prove all the lies published by GW for weeks before an independent court"- Orlen’s CEO Tweeted on April 9.

Last week, in an interview with the daily “Rzeczpospolita”, Mr Obajtek complained: "The media didn’t even respond to court’s decision. If the court orders an injunction, it should be published. Is someone who does not even respect the law a serious conversation partner?"

As a matter of fact, the court granted Mr Obajtek’s claim for publishing the reference in the same order in which it rejected the publishing ban. However, the addressee of the decision to publish the reference is not Wyborcza’s editorial board or its journalists, but Jarosław Kurski, the editor-in-chief of Wyborcza.pl.

The problem, however, is that not only was Mr Kurski never served with the lawsuit or the injunction, but the court has also ordered a return of Mr Obajtek's lawsuit in the case of Jarosław Kurski (as well as Adam Michnik, Wyborcza's editor-in-chief). Thus, there is reasonable doubt as to whether the injunction has been formally imposed. This is why the court has refused to provide the order with a declaration of enforceability, making the entire injunction order not final.

[For more information about Mr Obajtek’s efforts to silence Wyborcza, please see the following article]

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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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