Polish court rules president had right to pardon minister in abuse of power case

FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during a press conference during a visit to London

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish court ruled on Friday that the president was within his rights to pardon a government minister found guilty of abuse of power in a previous post, saving the government from a potentially damaging dismissal in an election year.

The ruling comes amid an intensifying conflict over democratic standards in Poland, after President Andrzej Duda signed a law on undue Russian influence that critics said could result in banning opposition politicians from public office, before he backpedalled and decided to propose amendments.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October or November, with polls suggesting the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party may fall short of a majority.

"The right of pardon is the exclusive and absolute competence of the President of the Republic of Poland, which has final legal effects," Constitutional Tribunal President Julia Przylebska when handing down the verdict.

In 2015, weeks after PiS came to power, Duda, a PiS ally, issued a pardon to Mariusz Kaminski who had been found guilty of abuse of power while serving as head of the anti-corruption agency and sentenced to three years in prison.

If the supreme court had rejected Kaminski's appeal against the conviction, he would not have been able to hold a government post. Kaminski, who, like Przylebska, is seen as close to PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, now serves as interior minister.

Lawyers question whether Duda had the right to pardon Kaminski before a final court ruling in his case, and opposition politicians have said his decision was political.

"The so-called Constitutional Tribunal acted today as a security company of PiS politicians breaking the law," opposition lawmaker Krzysztof Smiszek said on Twitter.

Critics said Kaminski and his associates had pursued corruption with excessive zeal when in office, using methods they said sometimes circumvented laws and also hounded innocent people. Kaminski argued that corruption was a blight on Polish democracy that had to be tackled thoroughly.

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish; editing by Mark Heinrich)