WARSAW, Poland (AP) — European Council President Donald Tusk spent more than eight hours behind closed doors Wednesday being questioned by Polish prosecutors, emerging from the proceedings to say the case in which he appeared as a witness is of a "highly political character."
Military prosecutors are investigating allegations of secret illegal contacts between Polish and Russian intelligence officials during the period when Tusk was Poland's prime minister. Former top intelligence officials are suspects in the case.
Tusk told reporters as he left the prosecutors' office in Warsaw that he cannot give details about his closed-door testimony, which is secret, but that he was treated hospitably to "tea, coffee and water."
"The whole case has a highly political character," Tusk said.
Before speaking to reporters, he shook hands and gave autographs to a large group of people waiting outside the prosecutors' office.
Tusk is not a suspect, but only a witness in the investigation. The alleged illegal activity took place during his 2007-2014 tenure as prime minister.
Many see his questioning as part of a larger attempt by Poland's nationalist government to discredit a political foe by linking him to scandals.
With backing for Tusk still strong in the country, he could prove to be a serious rival to the ruling party in the 2019 parliamentary election and in the 2020 presidential election.
Tusk's lawyer, Roman Giertych, told private broadcaster TVN24 that Tusk is "treated by the current ruling team as a serious political threat, and for that reason the case has a political character."
Giertych, who was present for the questioning, said it took so long partly because the minutes were taken by hand.
Tusk said he appeared for the questioning "out of respect for the Polish state." But he said he also informed the prosecutors he would invoke his diplomatic immunity as a top EU official, if he comes to the conclusion that the proceedings are intended to keep him from doing his current job.
Last month, Poland's current government tried to block his re-election to the top EU-job, for motives rooted in the political rivalry.
Tusk also has been accused by Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz of treason in another matter, the handling of the aftermath of the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski.
An agitated crowd of both faithful supporters and angry opponents greeted him when he arrived at Warsaw's main train station on Wednesday morning to testify.
Emotions at the train station ran high. Tusk's supporters carried EU and national flags and chanted, "Donald, we are with you!" Opponents hurled accusations of crimes and of Tusk having hurt Poland's interests. One detractor raised a large mock-up photo depicting him in striped prison garb.
In the current case, prosecutors have not revealed details of the alleged illegal contacts, but they are investigating whether the heads of Poland's intelligence neglected their obligation to seek Tusk's approval for cooperating with foreign intelligence agencies.
Polish media reports say the deal was aimed at allowing Polish investigators probing the president's plane crash to operate on Russian soil. Tusk's lawyer confirmed the case seemed to center on events that followed the crash.
"I have no reservations as to the work of the (special) services," Tusk said before his meeting with prosecutors.
Poland's current ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, is led by the late president's twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a nationalist politician who is a long-term political rival of Tusk's.
Kaczynski and others accuse Tusk of failing to oversee proper security for the presidential flight. They also fault Tusk for letting the Russians carry out the main investigation and for failing to get the wreckage back. Following centuries of troubled relations, Poles harbor mistrust toward Russia.
Kaczynski drove the failed effort last month to block Tusk from getting a second term as head of the European Council. Only Poland opposed Tusk's re-election, which was approved by the 27 other EU members.