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Schism in Poland's ruling party over minister's assistant

Associated Press logo Associated Press 12/04/2017 By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
The ruling party Law and Justice leader and twin brother of the former Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, second left, lays a wreath, as Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, left, holds a candle, during a ceremony at the Powazki cemetery to mark the seventh anniversary of the crash of the Polish government plane in Smolensk, Russia, that killed 96 people on board including Lech Kaczynski, in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, April 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) © The Associated Press The ruling party Law and Justice leader and twin brother of the former Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, second left, lays a wreath, as Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, left, holds a candle, during a ceremony at the Powazki cemetery to mark the seventh anniversary of the crash of the Polish government plane in Smolensk, Russia, that killed 96 people on board including Lech Kaczynski, in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, April 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

WARSAW, Poland — A conflict has erupted in Poland's ruling party that pits the party's powerful chairman against the country's defense minister.

At the center of the dispute is a 27-year-old male assistant to Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz who has enjoyed unusual privileges, raising eyebrows in Warsaw.

Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Wednesday suspended the assistant, Bartlomiej Misiewicz, from the party and ordered a commission to investigate the lucrative defense industry jobs and other preferential treatment he has received. Misiewicz was to appear before the commission Thursday.

The moves are meant to "protect the good image of the Law and Justice party," spokeswoman Beata Mazurek said.

In his role as ministry spokesman, Misiewicz has been saluted by soldiers and called "minister," honors not normally imparted to civilians.

Misiewicz, a former pharmacy assistant without a university degree, also has been given lucrative jobs in the defense industry under Macierewicz. The apparent favoritism has raised ethics concerns in a party that won office promising to fight corruption.

He was appointed last year to the supervisory board of Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ), one of the largest defense consortiums in Central Europe. The company's bylaws state board members must have college degrees, but the rules were changed to let Misiewicz join.

The Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper reported this week that Misiewicz was given a top communications job with PGZ that pays 50,000 zlotys ($12,500) a month, huge sum in a country where the average pre-tax wage is about $1,150 a month.

The company and Misiewicz denied that the salary was so high. But Kaczynski described the reports as "shocking" as he announced the probe into Misiewicz. Late Wednesday, the defense consortium said the agreement with the assistant has been terminated immediately.

Some observers think Misiewicz is part of a larger power struggle between Kaczynski and the defense minister.

It's a "war at the top," said Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, head of a small opposition party, PSL.

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