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The case concerned Wojciech Czuchnowski's opinion piece entitled "The Obajtek tapes. How the Orlen CEO broke the law and is now making his situation worse".
Czuchnowski's commentary followed a series of investigative articles that "Wyborcza" published about the "Obajtek tapes". The authors, Paweł Figurski and Jarosław Sidorowicz 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 ordered 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 violated the Act on the Local Government, which clearly forbids elected mayors to manage private companies while serving their term.
Crucially, in his oped, Czuchnowski included an extensive explanation regarding the "tapes" issued by Orlen’s spokesperson on behalf of Mr. Obajtek.
Through his attorney Maciej Zaborowski (who is himself a beneficiary of the current political power structure, as multiple state-owned companies regularly turn to his law firm for legal services), the Orlen CEO demanded that "Wyborcza" publish a correction notice for Czuchnowski's oped.
When the editors refused, he filed a lawsuit. The first instance ruling was issued in October 2021 – it stated that "Wyborcza" must publish the correction. The court did not examine whether "Wyborcza" wrote the truth, but decided that Mr. Obajtek had the right to present his own position.
Despite all this, the Orlen CEO declared victory. On Twitter, he bragged about allegedly winning the case. Yet, in one of the many documents sent to "Wyborcza", even his attorney emphasized that the purpose of a correction notice is only to present the subjective point of view of the person requesting it.
"Wyborcza" appealed the decision and on Thursday the final judgment was issued by the Warsaw Court of Appeal. The court has challenged the first instance ruling and dismissed Mr. Obajtek's claim.
- In a verbal justification, the court stated that the Orlen CEO was abusing his subjective right. He wanted a correction notice even though the article presented his position, i.e. a statement by Orlen's spokeswoman- says Agnieszka Całka, an attorney representing "Wyborcza". - The court found this to be sufficient. The purpose of a correction is to present the party's position - its own version of events - if it was not possible for it to do so. However, in this case, the public had a chance to learn Mr. Obajtek's opinion already in the original text.
"Wyborcza" published over a dozen of articles about Mr. Obajtek’s past, wealth, and staggering career.
Since then, his attorney keeps flooding "Wyborcza" with demands for correction notices. At times, we received over a dozen official letters in a single day. All of them were signed by Mr. Zaborowski.
In the fall of 2021, the court dismissed another claim for a correction notice filed by the Orlen CEO. He demanded that "Wyborcza" publish a note rectifying many of the statements about his illegal practices presented in the series of investigative articles.
The Regional Court in Warsaw shared "Wyborcza's" argument that Mr. Obajtek attempted to deny the content of the articles without actually denying or confirming the authenticity of the recordings on which the articles were based on.
Indeed, Mr. Obajtek never denied the authenticity of the recordings. He even apologized for the swear words he used while on tape.
In June of last year, the Warsaw District Court dismissed another lawsuit against "Wyborcza". A massive one. It consisted 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.
The court accepted the appeal of Agora SA, the publisher of "Wyborcza", changing its verdict of March 29 and rejecting 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.
The legal strategy employed by Mr. Zaborowski and his client is a classic example of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). 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.
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