Deputy minister resigns over fraud allegations

As a deputy minister, Jacek Zalek supervised the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBiR), a government agency. Artur Reszko/PAP

A Polish deputy minister for funds and regional policy has resigned owing to his apparent role in the allegedly fraudulent distribution of grants by a state research and development agency.

As a deputy minister, Jacek Zalek supervised the National Centre for Research and Development (NCBiR), a government agency.

The media and opposition politicians sounded alarm bells after discovering that NCBiR offered two huge grants to companies that would normally not qualify for funding, but could be linked to the ruling camp. The website reported on Thursday that it had seen stenographic records of NCBiR leadership discussions that Zalek had provided to prosecutors.

"Citing the stenographic records, the deputy minister describes how the Republican Party was to ensure itself financial security in case it lost the parliamentary election," wrote. "The operation was to be codenamed 'Black Coal'."

The Republican Party is a small ally in the ruling United Right coalition and Zalek is a deputy chairman of the party, according to its website.

"For the good of the continuing investigation into untrue information that has appeared in the media which has undermined my good name and the image of the United Right, today I resigned from the post of secretary of state in the Ministry of Funds and Regional Policy until the case is resolved," Zalek wrote on Twitter late on Thursday.

"At the same time I strongly declare that I have never and in no way formulated accusations against the Republican Party," Zalek added.

In early March, the spokesman for Law and Justice (PiS), the United Right's dominant party, said Zalek had been removed from overseeing the NCBiR.

The NCBiR offered the first grant, worth PLN 55 million (EUR 11.75 million), to a company with the founding capital of PLN 5,000 (EUR 1,068) that was set up ten days before the submission deadline for grant applications. The company's application received the lowest possible rank needed to qualify for the grant.

The second company, which has posted losses for the past two years, received a PLN 123 million (EUR 26.28 million) grant for a project concerning "undersea security".

Dariusz Jonski and Michal Szczerba, the two opposition politicians who carried out a parliamentary inspection of the NCBiR, have presented an alleged network of connections between the two companies and the Republican Party. The disbursement of funds under both grants has since been suspended, they said.

Piotr Mueller, the government spokesman, said on Friday afternoon that the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, had accepted Zalek's resignation.

"Today the prime minister accepted the resignation, he signed it, therefore the minister has stopped serving his function," Mueller said.

No replacement for Zalek has yet been named, he added.