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POLITICS : Family Ties to Communists Haunt Presidential Hopeful in Poland

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The campaign materials of Aleksander Kwasniewski, the former Communist who hopes to be elected Poland’s next president on Sunday, never lack for images of his wife, Jolanta.

His most recent eight-page newspaper supplement features a giant cover photograph of the couple. Inside, there are pictures of Jolanta on their wedding day, Jolanta campaigning, Jolanta chopping cabbage in the kitchen, Jolanta at home with their daughter, and Jolanta and the family dog in a snow-swept meadow.

Attractive, elegant, always smiling, Jolanta Kwasniewska, 40, has been a prized campaign asset for the surging Kwasniewski, whose own good looks and carefully crafted public persona have contributed to his remarkable political success.

But there has always been an unsettling side to Kwasniewski, 41, including nagging questions about his Communist past and the cadre of former Communist loyalists associated with him.

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Now, in the closing days of the campaign, the suspicion has enveloped his wife, a successful real estate agent who, it turns out, has also made some lucrative investments in an insurance company with strong ties to the former Communist Party elite.

Her investments in Polisa SA, Poland’s third-largest insurer, have raised anew fears about Kwasniewski’s cozy relationship with his Communist-era colleagues, an issue the onetime Communist government official had hoped was behind him. It has also brought ethical matters to the forefront in the campaign, only the second presidential election in the country’s brief democratic history.

“Public opinion is more and more sensitive toward corruption matters and the personal honesty of politicians,” said Piotr Nowina-Konopka, a member of Parliament and former activist in the Solidarity movement, which helped oust the Communists in 1989. “I think it is a positive sign for Poland.”

Founded initially as a cooperative in 1989, Polisa’s major shareholders now include the finance minister in the last Communist government, the head of a prominent Communist-era students organization and two former Central Committee members of the Communist Party.

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Until recently, the company had been prohibited from publicly trading its stock because of irregularities surrounding several preferred offerings, including shares sold last year to Jolanta Kwasniewska. The preferred shares have reportedly soared in value.

Not only did Kwasniewska buy the shares but her husband failed to reveal the purchases in his annual financial disclosure statement to Parliament. The statements, required by law, are meant to prevent politicians from benefiting financially from their public posts.

Kwasniewski said he left out his wife’s holdings because the parliamentary form was unclear. Yet Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, another former Communist, apparently reported shares bought by his wife.

Kwasniewska’s ties to Polisa were first revealed in the Zycie Warszawy newspaper, a strong backer of President Lech Walesa, but their essence has been confirmed in other accounts. The Justice Ministry--headed by a Kwasniewski ally--has opened an investigation into whether he broke the law by not listing the holdings.

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Strictly speaking, analysts say, questions about Jolanta Kwasniewska’s finances are not serious enough to sink her husband’s bid to unseat Walesa. But what could prove damaging to Kwasniewski is the perception that the once-dreaded network of Communist Party cronies is alive and well.

Walesa has pounded Kwasniewski for his Communist past, arguing that a Kwasniewski victory would bring a return of former apparatchiks to positions of authority, where they would once again control the country’s purse strings.


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