This article examines the relationship between management of the ministerial bureaucracy and the risk of high-level corruption in Poland. Four danger zones of corruption in the ministerial bureaucracy are distinguished, comprising the personalisation of appointments, the emergence of multiple dependencies, the screening capacity of the personnel system and the incentive of bureaucrats to develop a reputation of honesty and competence. Empirically, the article investigates the case of Poland from 1997 until 2007 and sets the findings in a comparative East Central European perspective. The article shows that corruption risks in the ministerial bureaucracy increased in most but not all danger zones after 2001 and, in particular, during the period of the centre-right governments that were in office between 2005 and 2007. The increase in corruption risks is reflected in Poland's deteriorating corruption record during the same period. The conclusion discusses the findings with regard to alternative causes of corruption and the relationship between civil service professionalisation and corruption in other East Central European countries. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.