Poland Puts Judge Who Defected To Belarus On Wanted List, Opening Way To International Warrant

WARSAW, Poland (AP) —

A controversial judge who fled from Poland to neighboring autocratic Belarus has been put on a wanted list, a step toward an international arrest warrant on espionage allegations, the Polish national prosecutors' office said Thursday.

Spokesperson Przemyslaw Nowak said the search for judge Tomasz Szmydt had been launched. Even if Belarus does not heed the international warrant, it will restrict Szmydt’s ability to travel internationally, authorities have said.

Poland’s services are working to determine how harmful Szmydt’s knowledge of any classified information might be to the interests of this NATO and European Union country. Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called him a traitor.

Szmydt was notorious in Poland for having engaged in a 2019 online smear campaign against other judges that was sponsored by the Justice Ministry under the previous right-wing government.

Independent media in Belarus said he had been posting photos from an upscale district of the capital, Minsk, suggesting he might have been accommodated there.

On May 6, Belarusian state media reported that Szmydt arrived in the country and asked for protection, saying he did not agree with the policies of Tusk's pro-EU government.

Szmydt’s defection came as a shock in Poland, which supports Ukraine in its war against Russia’s aggression and which has a history of distrust with Russia. Belarus is closely allied with Russia and has allowed Moscow to station tactical nuclear weapons on its territory.

In 2021, a Polish soldier, Emil Czeczko, fled to Belarus seeking asylum. The following year, Belarusian authorities announced that he had been found hanged and dead in his home in Minsk. No further details were revealed.