The Polish co-producer of the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List” and “The Pianist” was convicted Monday of fraud and sentenced to 2½ years in prison in a bribery scandal that has fueled public anger about corruption in high places.
Lew Rywin remained free pending an expected appeal of the Warsaw provincial court’s verdict, which also imposed a $24,830 fine.
The court ruled the 58-year-old producer falsely claimed he represented Prime Minister Leszek Miller when he allegedly sought a $17.5 million bribe from Agora SA, publisher of the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, in 2002.
His offer to lobby for changes to a proposed media law that would enable Agora to buy a nationwide broadcaster also was a misrepresentation, the three-judge panel ruled.
Rywin smiled bitterly and shook his head as the verdict was read in court.
His company, Heritage Films, co-produced Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” which won three Academy Awards last year, including best director. The company also co-produced Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” which won the 1993 Academy Award for best picture.
Presenting the verdict, Judge Marek Celej said the court had concluded that Rywin approached Agora president Wanda Rapaczynska and Gazeta Wyborcza editor Adam Michnik “in order to achieve financial gain.”
He “misled them because he claimed against the facts that he represented Miller and a group holding power,” Celej said.
Parliament has also inconclusively investigated the bribery allegations.
Though Miller has vehemently denied any involvement, the investigations and a year of intense media coverage have cost the prime minister and his governing Democratic Left Alliance party public support.
Months of parliamentary hearings captivated Poles and prompted comparisons with the Watergate scandal.
At the same time, unemployment around 20 percent and cuts in government spending to get Poland ready for entry to the European Union have hurt the popularity of Miller, who has said he will step down May 2 — the day after Poland joins the EU.
Monday’s ruling was unlikely to dispel a belief among many Poles that Rywin was a messenger for Poland’s leaders.
“The verdict did not clarify the case,” said Julia Pitera, head of the Polish branch of the private anti-corruption group Transparency International.