Thursday, May 08, 2008

Lepper on trial for sex scandal

Poland's former deputy prime minister Andrzej Lepper went on trial on Tuesday for allegedly forcing a female employee to have sex with him and other officials in exchange for getting a job, Poland's TVN24 news channel reported.

The trial of the populist Samoobrona (Self-Defence) party leader and his deputy Stanislaw Lyzwinski, who is accused of rape and sexual harassment, was being held behind closed doors under a decision by the court hearing the case in Piotrkow Trybunalski, a town in central Poland.

Lepper, 53, was charged in November 2007 with exploiting his position as Samoobrona leader to force a woman who was seeking a job with the party to have sex with him and other officials in 2001-2002.

The offence carries an eight-year prison sentence.

Lyzwinski, 54, could face 10 years behind bars. Both men have denied the charges.

In December 2006, 33-year-old former party employee Aneta Krawczyk accused Lepper and Lyzwinski of demanding sex in exchange for a job.

Lepper was also charged over a failed attempt to force sexual favours from another female party employee.

The sex scandal rocked Poland's coalition government, contributing to a slide in popularity that saw it fall from power in a snap election in October 2007.

Lepper was once a political pariah, best known for leading commando-style protests as a 1990s farm activist which earned him a string of court convictions.

In May 2006, however, the conservative Law and Justice party brought Samoobrona, along with the far-right League of Polish Families, into a coalition to shore up its minority government.

Lepper, who served as agriculture minister and deputy premier, was fired in September of that year after a policy dispute, only to return weeks later as the then prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski sought to stave off the ensuing political crisis.

Lepper was sacked again in July 2007 after a bribery scandal, although he denied any wrongdoing and claimed he was the victim of a feud with Kaczynski.

Samoobrona was swept from parliament in last year's snap election - which also saw Kaczynski lose office - obtaining just 1,5 percent of the vote compared to 11,4 percent in the 2005 polls.