Poland Still Has Property Issues Stemming From Communist Takeover After World War II

An arrest order issued Tuesday for Polish businessman Michal Sobanski highlights a country-wide issue in reclaiming property seized by Communists after World War II.

Sobanski, the 46-year-old descendant of one of Poland's aristocratic families, is charged with crimes related to a property worth $11 million. An Associated Press report said that he acted as an "intermediary" for his "clients" in exchange for a "commission."

Prosecutors in Wroclaw allege that he used false documents or testimony when going through Poland's restitution process to reclaim properties the Communists seized after nationalizing aristocratic families' real estate.

The AP reported that the Appeals Court in Warsaw rejected Sobanski's appeal against temporary arrest. Sobanski is currently being held in isolation in prison while the investigation continues. He faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Poland is the only Central European country with no legislation regulating the return of seized property to its prewar owners or inheritors. Instead, they must make claims in Poland's courts, a process that the AP said is "filled with hurdles."

Recent legislation has closed off reversals of administrative ownership decisions older than 30 years.

Sobanski's lawyer, Jan Mydlowski, said it was no coincidence that Sobanski was targeted shortly before the government introduced this legislation.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Sobanski family palace, Poland
A Warsaw court on November 16 confirmed the arrest order for a descendant of one Poland's aristocratic families, in a case highlighting problems still resulting from the Communist regime's seizure of private property after World War II. Above, a view of the palace of the Sobanski family, undergoing renovation after decades of World War II and Communist-era damage, in Guzow, Poland, on October 28. Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo

Sobanski will remain jailed until December 20, while the investigation continues. The prosecutors argue that only isolation can guarantee there will be no influencing of witnesses.

Sobanski denies the charges, and his family and lawyers say it is an injustice to keep him in pretrial detention for months.

In a related case, the descendant of another of Poland's aristocratic families, Adam Zamoyski, a 72-year-old Polish-British historian, had his passport taken and a blockade put on his properties while prosecutors pursue allegations of appropriating someone else's inheritance rights, valued at $5 million by the means of an allegedly forged will.

"I can't wait to get into court and refute everything," said Zamoyski who has been decorated with medals for his decades-long service to Poland's culture. He spoke to the AP from his home in Poland, saying he had been forced to cancel work obligations and medical appointments in London.

The new legislation also affects some Holocaust survivors and their descendants, triggering a diplomatic row with Israel, though the majority of the prewar property seized by the Communists was owned by Christian Poles, not Jews.

The prosecutors insist there is no connection between the arrests and the new law.

Michal Sobanski, Poland
Descendant of an aristocratic family, businessman Michal Sobanski has been held in isolation in a prison in the western Polish city of Wroclaw since June. Above, Sobanski on the terrace of the Sobanski Palace in Guzow, Poland, on June 1, 2020. Marcin Brzezinski/AP Photo