Michał Woś is accused of misusing funds to pay for Pegasus spyware.
Michał Woś is accused of misusing funds to pay for Pegasus spyware. Image: Krzemin28 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Polish Parliament strips official of immunity, clearing path for prosecution in spyware scandal

The Polish parliament on Friday voted to lift an opposition leader’s legal immunity in order to prosecute him for the part he allegedly played in buying powerful commercial spyware when he was a leader in the former ruling majority.

A longtime Polish politician and former member of Parliament’s Council of Ministers leadership, Michał Woś is facing prosecution for abusing his power and abusing trust when he served in the former Law and Justice (PiS) government, then a majority, according to local news reports.

The crimes Woś is accused of each could lead to up to 10-year prison sentences.

The parliament vote to strip Woś of legal immunity comes in response to a request last month from the country’s prosecutor general and justice minister Adam Bodnar, Notes from Poland reported.

Woś appears to be the first Polish politician to have legal immunity removed as a target for prosecution in what has become a sprawling scandal rocking Poland, where authorities have found that nearly 600 people, some of whom were opposition politicians and their aides, were eavesdropped on with Pegasus spyware.

One target of the Pegasus spying served as the manager of the opposition’s election campaign in 2019, illustrating how the technology was apparently used for political purposes. The software’s manufacturer has said Pegasus is only meant to be used for law enforcement and intelligence investigations.

Slightly more than half of the Sejm — the lower house of the bicameral parliament — voted to remove Woś’s immunity in a party line vote.

The charges Woś faces stem from the transfer of 25 million zloty ($6.2 million) from a justice ministry fund to the country’s Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA). The money was allegedly used to purchase Pegasus, which is manufactured by the Israeli-based NSO Group. That fund is supposed to pay for crime victim support, crime prevention, and rehabilitation of the recently imprisoned, Notes from Poland reported.

Woś said Thursday that the new parliamentary majority has made him a target of “political repression.” Notes from Poland reported Friday that Woś has said he did not commit any crimes.

Bodnar is now trying to strip former deputy justice minister and current opposition Parliamentarian Marcin Romanowski of legal immunity. Parliament will vote to determine Romanowski’s fate next week.

Poland’s path toward prosecuting officials involved in the country’s Pegasus scandal began in September when a Senate commission investigating what occurred recommended potential criminal charges against those involved. The country has stood out for its aggressive actions to find out what happened and go after those found to be culpable.

The 18-month-long Senate investigation included a charge that the country’s 2019 elections were tainted due to the hacking of opposition leader Krzysztof Brejza.

“What we have been able to find out over the last year and a half through the work of our committee must scare us as citizens,” Deputy Speaker of the Senate Michał Kamiński said in the report summary released at the time. 

”This monstrous weapon was not used to protect citizens, but as our committee proved, it was used to persecute people who did not like the authorities,” he added.

Pegasus scandals involving government abuse of the technology have hit Mexico and several European countries, including Hungary, Spain and Greece. The spyware also has been abused in India, Rwanda and across Asia.

In 2022, digital forensic researchers found that more than 60 Catalans in Spain had been infected with Pegasus after a failed bid for independence. 

In April, Spain's High Court reopened a probe into the alleged Pegasus targeting of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and other Spanish politicians' devices with the spyware following a French offer to collaborate in the investigation.

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Suzanne Smalley

Suzanne Smalley

is a reporter covering privacy, disinformation and cybersecurity policy for The Record. She was previously a cybersecurity reporter at CyberScoop and Reuters. Earlier in her career Suzanne covered the Boston Police Department for the Boston Globe and two presidential campaign cycles for Newsweek. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.