Polish criminal investigators eagerly awaiting Chicago court ruling

Marek Papala, photo: Jacek Dominski

The assassination eight years ago of Poland's National Police Chief Marek Papala shocked the country. Papala was shot in the head and killed as he was getting out of a car in front of his home in Warsaw in June 1998. No one has yet faced justice. Polish authorities are trying to extradite their main suspect from the United States. But a Federal Court Judge in Chicago this week took no decision on extraditing Edward Mazur, who is accused by Polish authorities of instigating the assassination of the police chief. Slawek Szefs has been following the trial:

Edward Mazur is an accomplished Polish-born American businessman holding dual citizenship. Being a frequent guest in his native country, he invested in several businesses and established personal contacts with numerous high ranking politicians and officials. According to gathered testimony Polish prosecutors have been suspecting him of involvement in the murder of police chief Marek Papala since 2000. Two years later, Mazur was arrested in Poland under charges of conspiracy but was released within hours. He left Poland not to return ever since. Despite pledges of successive Polish governments that the murder case of general Papala will be solved and its perpetrator (s) brought to justice, not much had been accomplished. It was claimed the investigation encountered many obstacles with rumours speaking of organized crime links to the highest political quarters and post-Communist secret services.

The present Polish Justice Minister took a more active interest in the investigation proceedings. After a trip to Washington and talks with the US Attorney General, Poland prepared an extradition request for Edward Mazur. He is accused of soliciting the murder of police chief Marek Papala by offering 40 thousand dollars in April 1998 to at least two professional killers. Mazur was arrested by the FBI on October 20th this year. His lawyers have been demanding Mazur's release on bail. On Wednesday, a Federal Court in Chicago decided on another hearing in the case, setting the date for November 15th. Just before the hearing, Micheal Stiegel representing the defence downplayed the importance of the Polish charges:

"I did read lots and lots of articles. The only information I ever saw in the Polish press was rumour, or statements made by convicted criminals. He denied categorically it was not true and he had never met these people. I believe him that he had no involvement. From my perspective, he was an articulate, refined businessman. If there was a dark side, it was not something I ever saw."

This line of thought has been followed by Christopher Gair of Jenner & Block, an A-listed US law firm, hired by Edward Mazur to seek release on bond and deny the extradition request. However, Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys said he saw no special circumstances and extradition was an almost automatic step in such a case. Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro was optimistic after the hearing:

"This court procedure could last umpteen months so we have to be patient. But what's important is that the case is on the agenda. And we are confident the evidence presented allows for an extradition decision to be made."

Bartosz Weglarczyk, long time US correspondent of Gazeta Wyborcza says, now that the request formalities have been cleared, the Polish side's chances for a favourable verdict have risen considerably:

"I would say there's about a fifty percent chance that the judge will order the extradition of Mr. Mazur. The line of defence was very weak. I think the judge already thinks Mr. Mazur should be extradited. So it will be a difficult fight, an uphill struggle for his lawyers. Secondly, if the judge rules in favour of the extradition, it will be difficult for the Department of Justice not to extradite Mr. Mazur to Poland."

A signalled line of defence may also be the claim that the extradition case of Edward Mazur is politically tinted and not of a strictly criminal character. Bartosz Weglarczyk considers evidence presented to the court as satisfying to prove the latter:

"They will say this is a political case by the right wing government in Poland against a businessman connected to a left wing party. The second line of defence is that the whole case is based only on testimonies of well known gangsters. And gangsters are obviously not very well reputed witnesses."

Polish prosecutors say they should have little difficulty in convincing Mazur to talk. He has just turned sixty and any extended imprisonment would be tantamount to a life sentence.