Polish populist politician Andrzej Lepper dies

August 5, 2011 - 1:14 PM
Poland Obit Lepper

FILE - In this July 27, 2007 file photo Andrzej Lepper, head of the Self-Defense party, a junior party in Poland's conservative coalition speaks in Warsaw, Poland. Lepper, a populist Polish politician who served as deputy prime minister before being disgraced by a sex scandal, has died. He was 57. Police say Lepper's body was found in his office in Warsaw on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011 and that they suspect he committed suicide. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Andrzej Lepper, a populist Polish politician who was deputy prime minister in a shaky government that held power from 2005 to 2007 and was later disgraced by a sex scandal, has died. He was 57.

Police said Lepper's body was found in his party office in Warsaw on Friday afternoon and that they suspect he committed suicide.

"Everything indicates that he killed himself," police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said.

Lepper rose to prominence during the 1990s by publicly lambasting government leaders and organizing protests by farmers who feared they would be swamped by Western competition when Poland joined the European Union in 2004.

To his supporters, he stood as a daring advocate for the poor and was sometimes dubbed "the Polish Le Pen" for his populist positions — a comparison with French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

At one point, Lepper told his supporters that should he come to power he would order the central bank to print huge quantities of cash to distribute to the poor. He also called for convicted pedophiles to be castrated without painkillers.

In the end, though, EU membership brought great economic benefits to Poland's farmers. That contributed to a decline in his political fortunes, which also suffered due to allegations against him of sex abuse and corruption.

In 2000 Lepper founded a party, Self-Defense, which became a junior partner in a conservative-nationalist government that held office from 2005 to 2007.

He served as deputy prime minister and agriculture minister in that government, which was led for most of his short tenure by then-Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

That government collapsed due to infighting between the three governing parties and as allegations surfaced that Lepper had solicited sex from a woman who worked for his party. Lepper was convicted of those charges last year.