Polish bank owner accused of cheating clients, justice minister says

WARSAW (Reuters) - Bank owner and billionaire Leszek Czarnecki is accused by prosecutors of cheating clients of Idea Bank IDE.WA and exposing the lender to a significant loss, Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Polish billionaire Leszek Czarnecki speaks during the debut of Get Bank at the Warsaw Stock Exchange January 20, 2012. REUTERS/Peter Andrews/File Photo

Polish state prosecutors have filed a motion to arrest Czarnecki and a Warsaw court on Friday said it would consider the matter next month, sending shares in his holding company and two banks he controls sharply lower.

Czarnecki is the majority shareholder in Idea Bank and the head of its supervisory board.

Ziobro said on Monday that if the court decides to detain Czarnecki, Poland will issue an international arrest warrant because he is abroad. The crime Czarnecki is accused of can be punished with 15 years in prison, he added.

Last year Poland’s antimonopoly office said that Idea Bank misled clients when selling them bonds issued by debt collector GetBack. Idea Bank sold GetBack in March 2016.

Roman Giertych, Czarnecki’s lawyer and a former politician said that Ziobro’s accusations are grotesque and are related to media speculations that he might be dismissed as a result of tensions in the ruling coalition.

“The absurdity of the allegations is additionally illustrated by the fact that my client supervises over a dozen large companies, including many banks. However, he has never been on the management board of GetBack or on the Supervisory Board of this company,” Giertych said in a statement.

GetBack ran into trouble in 2018 when it purchased large portfolios of distressed debt at higher prices than its competitors, funding this with short-term bond issues.

The court opened an accelerated restructuring procedure for GetBack, while the financial market regulator submitted a notice of offence to the prosecutor’s office in relation to the company’s activities.

Idea Bank said that it wants all issues related to GetBack and its financial instruments to be analysed and explained.

“Idea Bank is operating without any disturbance. We remain in contact with the supervision authorities...,” the bank’s press office said.

($1 = 3.7994 zlotys)

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Kirsten Donovan