Polish prosecutors say opened spy probe after judge flees to Belarus

Belarus had earlier announced that the Polish judge, Tomasz Szmydt, had crossed from Poland into the Moscow-allied state (Wojtek RADWANSKI)
Belarus had earlier announced that the Polish judge, Tomasz Szmydt, had crossed from Poland into the Moscow-allied state (Wojtek RADWANSKI)

Polish prosecutors Monday said they had opened an espionage probe after a judge fled to neighbouring Belarus and reportedly asked for asylum over spying allegations that he dismissed as "fabricated".

Prosecutors wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that they were "conducting an investigation in connection with the information that a judge... has asked for political asylum in Belarus".

They cited a penal code article that deals with espionage and which comes with a sentence of at least eight years in prison.

Poland's ABW secret services separately said in a statement that they were checking "the extent of the classified information to which the judge had access".

Earlier Monday, Belarus announced that the Polish judge, Tomasz Szmydt, had crossed into the Moscow-allied state, with whom Poland has tense relations.c

Relations between Warsaw and Minsk have been strained for years -- over a political crackdown in Belarus and a migration crisis -- but have sunk to new lows since President Alexander Lukashenko backed the Kremlin's Ukraine offensive.

Belarusian state news agency Belta said Szmydt had asked autocrat Lukashenko for asylum.

"This is an act of protest against Poland's politics towards Belarus and Russia," Szmydt said at a press conference in Belarus, according to Belta.

- 'Spying' allegations -

Szmydt was close to Poland's former governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party which lost power to the current pro-EU coalition late last year.

"Returning to Poland would mean arrest under a fabricated case of spying," he said in a video published by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

"It was hard before but now it is a case of life or death."

Officials in Warsaw did not hide their surprise.

"I am honestly in shock," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters.

"We've had a traitor before, I think it is a similar case."

Sikorski was referring to Polish soldier Emil Czeczko, who in 2021 defected to Belarus. Minsk authorities said he was found dead in March 2022.

Polish Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said he was awaiting a report on Szmydt's case and that Warsaw would investigate his previous activity in the NATO country.

"If someone chooses Belarus, then in what interests did he work for years in Poland, in whose name?" Kosiniak-Kamysz said.

"It is not a natural direction to look for protection where Alexander Lukashenko rules."

Polish presidential advisor Stanislaw Zaryn, a former secret service spokesman under the PiS government, described Szmydt as "trash and a traitor", adding that he did not know what the judge was running from.

"In the past, similar actions were taken by those who feared being held responsible for their acts in Poland," Zaryn said.

"No sane person flees to Belarus to become a puppet between the hands of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Lukashenko."