WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Warsaw court on Tuesday confirmed the arrest order for a Polish businessman who is a descendent of one of Poland's aristocratic families, in a case highlighting the problems still resulting from the communist regime's seizure of private property after World War II.
Michal Sobanski, a 46-year-old businessman, has been held in isolation in a prison in the western Polish city of Wroclaw since June. The Appeals Court in Warsaw rejected his lawyers' appeal against the temporary arrest, which means Sobanski must remain jailed until Dec. 20, while the investigation continues. The prosecutors argue that only isolation can guarantee there will be no influencing of witnesses.
Prosecutors in Wroclaw say they have charged Sobanski with committing crimes relating to property valued at 44 million zlotys ($11 million) while he acted as an “intermediary” for his “clients” in exchange for a “commission.” The charges do not relate to any of the Sobanski family property, spokeswoman for the prosecutors told The Associated Press.
Sobanski was helping various related and unrelated persons, also living abroad, get through Poland's property restitution process and reclaim their family properties seized by the communists, who nationalized the estates of aristocratic families and real estate in Warsaw, the capital.
Sobanski denies the charges, and his family and lawyers say it is an injustice to keep him in pre-trial detention for months.
In a related case, the descendent of another one of Poland's aristocratic families, Adam Zamoyski, a 72-year-old Polish-British historian, had his passport taken and a blockade put on his properties while prosecutors pursue allegations of appropriating someone else’s inheritance rights, valued at 20 million zlotys ($5 million) by the means of an allegedly forged will.
“I can’t wait to get into court and refute everything," said Zamoyski who has been decorated with medals for his decades-long service to Poland’s culture. He spoke to the AP from his home in Poland, saying he had been forced to cancel work obligations and medical appointments in London.
Both Zamoyski and Sobanski's lawyer, Jan Mydlowski, believe it is no coincidence that they were targeted soon before Poland's government introduced new legislation that restricts the rights of former property owners and their descendants to reclaim property seized by the country’s former communist regime.
The law also affects some Holocaust survivors and their descendants, triggering a diplomatic row with Israel, though the majority of the prewar property seized by the communists was owned by Christian Poles, not Jews.
The prosecutors insist there is no connection between the arrests and the new law.
The 11 counts of alleged crimes in Sobanski's case carry a prison term of up to 10 years. The prosecutors allege Sobanski, and some others, have used false documents or testimony to obtain from the state the restitution of real estate across Poland, while leaving out some inheritors.
Poland is the only country in Central Europe that has no legislation to regulate the return of seized property to its pre-World War II owners or their inheritors. Instead, the original owners and their inheritors have been told to make their claims through Poland’s courts.
The lengthy path is filled with hurdles, especially for those living abroad. In rare cases, irregularities allowed speculators to gain ownership of properties they had no previous links to at all. The recent legislation puts a stop to all claims by closing off the possibility of reversing administrative ownership decisions older than 30 years.