Polish convicted businessman uses threats to seek pardon

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish businessman who organized an illegal wiretapping operation that helped topple a pro-European government has demanded a pardon from Poland's president and threatened to reveal who ordered the recordings if he doesn't get it, a newspaper reported Monday.

The case of the businessman, Marek Falenta, has raised questions about whether there could have been Russian influence in Poland's elections in 2015.

Falenta, a 43-year-old multimillionaire, imported coal from Russia and Polish media have reported that he owed millions of dollars to a company with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin when he carried out the eavesdropping of politicians in 2013 and 2014.

In January, Falenta was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison but escaped to Spain, where he was arrested in April. On Friday he was extradited back to Poland.

While in a Spanish jail awaiting extradition, he wrote to Polish President Andrzej Duda making his third request for a pardon, the daily Rzeczpospolita reported. In contents of the letter reported by the paper, Falenta alleges that he was conscripted by officials from the right-wing Law and Justice party, with whom Duda is aligned, to secretly tape politicians in power in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

In all, hundreds of hours of illegal recordings were made as politicians dined in expensive restaurants. The leaked conversations revealed politicians from the then-ruling Civic Platform party using vulgar language and appearing elitist. In some cases their behavior suggested a willingness for corruption. The party lost elections in 2015.

Duda's office confirmed Monday that Falenta's request had been received and would be duly processed but did not provide any further details. Duda has twice rejected his requests.

Grzegorz Rzeczkowski, an investigative reporter for the weekly magazine Polityka, has found evidence of links between Falenta and Russian that go beyond the coal imports. In one example, the restaurants where the recordings took place were established by people with links to Russia.

The former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, now a top EU leader, has alluded in the past to the possible involvement of Russia, which has a long history of trying to influence politics in Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

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