Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, was questioned Monday in his native Poland as part of a parliamentary investigation into a pyramid scheme that cheated thousands of Poles out of their savings during his time as prime minister.
In an emotional moment, Tusk told the ruling conservative party that it is using his televised questioning for political purposes.
"You need this commission, you need this spectacle to keep repeating ... your insinuations, also on the subject of my family," Tusk said.
There have been years of enmity between Tusk and Poland's ruling Law and Justice party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Commentators on private TVN24 described the event as a public "grilling," and it was widely seen as part of the conservative party's efforts to discredit Tusk, a political foe who is still popular in Poland.
Tusk was sworn in by the special multi-party commission that has already questioned dozens of state officials in its efforts to pinpoint responsibility for the scam.
Addressing him as "prime minister" the commission sought to determine the scope of Tusk's authority over state security and other offices and when he was made aware of the pyramid scheme by the Amber Gold financial institution.
Prosecutors say some 19,000 investors lost over 850 million zlotys (USD 225 million) in what turned out to be one of the biggest financial scandals in Poland. Amber Gold's founders are now serving prison terms.
The scam, which was revealed in 2012, has raised questions about the effectiveness of Poland's government during Tusk's 2007-2014 term. Authorities allegedly failed to react in time to warning signals about Amber Gold, which turned out to be a pyramid scheme.
Rejecting these allegations, Tusk said a warning against Amber Gold was issued by the Polish Financial Supervision Commission, or KNF, and it was not the prime minister's job to issue such a warning.
"While I have sympathy for those who invested in Amber Gold, because they are the victims of these dealings, I want to say that a warning by the KNF that it was linked to very high risk was publicly available," Tusk said. He suggested that procedures failed.
"In the Amber Gold case, had all the links described in the procedure worked as they should have, we would have probably managed to avoid the lion's share of the losses that people sustained," Tusk said.
Tusk denied allegations that his son's job could have served as a protective umbrella for the pyramid scheme.
Before the hearing, Tusk told reporters he showed up because he treats the commission's work "seriously." "It was my obligation as a citizen."
There was no escaping the political overtones of Monday's interrogation. The commission's head, Malgorzata Wassermann of Law and Justice, on Sunday lost her bid to become mayor of the city of Krakow. The local elections across Poland have made the ruling party aware that its appeal to city voters is limited.
For his part, Kaczynski claims that negligence under Tusk was the reason for the 2010 plane crash in which his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, was killed. Tusk and the president had a rocky relationship.
The investigation into the plane crash in Smolensk, Russia which killed 96 state, military and other officials said it was due to human error in poor visibility at a rudimentary airport.
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