It is fairly easy to understand that prison is rather not among the top 10 destinations anybody would like to spend the rest of one’s life. But it seems that some important figures, as well as the mainstream media, are supporting the illusion that prisoners in Poland commit suicide around the clock, and that this is perfectly natural. Tough and ruthless killers being kept in Polish prisons get soft and fall ill or commit suicide, despite monitoring and the presence of highly professional personnel keeping an eye on them 24/7. When listening to these explanations, it is difficult to get rid of the impression that one is watching a cable drama.
Summer evening, 10 pm, 25 June 1998, the Mokotów district in Warsaw: A mushrooming crowd of officials, high-ranking policemen, an investigative squad, photographers, journalists and passersby surrounds a dead body lying on the concrete next to a vehicle. A few minutes earlier, the wife of the chief of the Polish police, Marek Papała, had left home to take her dog for a walk. When she returned she found her husband shot dead outside their apartment. The bullet, fired from a short distance, had shattered his skull. She was shocked, as were all of the policemen working in the metropolitan headquarters at that time. The assassin did not leave a shell or any other trace.
The death of “hitmen club” member Artur Zirajewski, aka Ivan, on 3 January is the twelfth death in a row of an important witness in the case of the assassination of Police Chief Marek Papała. On the basis of his testimony in 2005, a bill of indictment against Polish-American businessman Edward Mazur was prepared. Zirajewski testified that he took part in a secret meeting where Mazur offered him 40,000 dollars for killing the policeman.
Prosecutor Zbigniew Niemczyk has pronounced that Ivan’s death was caused by serious pulmonary thrombosis, but there are few people who believe this version. According to the police report, a week earlier Zirajewski tried to commit suicide by swallowing several sleeping pills in one go after receiving a kite (a clandestine note between prisoners) that upset him greatly. One of the attorneys of the other “hitmen club” members said Zirajewski had no reason to commit suicide for the very simple reason that there was little time left until his release. Yet apparently there are individuals who had reason to help him to leave this world. Ivan was someone who had put the Polish judiciary to shame and was one of the last people whose testimony could have added to the resolution of the most serious political assassination in Poland during the last decade. Shortly after Zirajewski’s death, the minister of justice tried to convince the public that this occurrence was as natural as snow during the wintertime.
Marek Papała was the first such high-ranking official to be assassinated in Poland in the past 20 years. He was not the last one, however.
Two years after that episode, former Deputy Prime Minister Ireneusz Sekuła, nicknamed Mr. Cigar, was found shot in his office. He died nearly a month later in hospital. The criminal investigation revealed that he was shot three times in his stomach and arm by… himself. But according to an article in Polish newspaper Dziennik, Sekuła was carrying a two million złoty debt claimed by the mafia. A week before the event he had met with an old friend to beg for money, suggesting he could be killed if he did not get it.
In 2001, the former minister of sport was shot dead on the street in Warsaw . After leaving politics he had become involved in a business with organised crime affiliations. Jeremiasz Barański, aka Baranina, resident of the Polish mafia in Vienna and accused of Debski’s death, was found hanging by his belt in prison in 2003. His death has been ruled as suicide.
This is not the plot of a work of political fiction, but the reality a decade after Poland’s transformation into a democracy, mirrored in the mutual relations between the state and an organised crime syndicate thriving in the shadow of the former communist secret service. All of these officials happened to become embroiled in some way in the interests of both business and the underground syndicate, and undoubtedly had access to information that would be very dangerous to many of the political stars that are now shining brightly. Nevertheless, all of these cases have one common feature: all remain unsolved.
It has been suggested that the assassinations of some former government figures are linked to the growing crime underground, whose structures grow in power thanks to a never entirely dissolved secret service background and forming cliques and coteries at both local and central level of the authorities.
In 2005 the Polish public was shocked by an affair that seemed to be a disturbing criminal case that ended in a horrible murder. Soon it appeared to be a most puzzling story, with a string of suicides connected to it. This created a huge dilemma for the government, and a special investigative parliamentary committee was created.
The story began in 2001 with the kidnapping of the son of Włodzimierz Olewnik, a wealthy meat-industry businessman from the district of Płock. With every passing moment, the chances of finding the devastated businessman’s son alive decreased. But the investigation got stuck in blind alleys despite having plenty of possible leads for consideration. One of them was based on the idea that Krzysztof Olewnik had faked the kidnapping in order to extort money from his family. This idea was treated very seriously, slowing the whole investigative process by a considerable extent. Meanwhile, Olewnik’s family paid a ransom of 300,000 euro, assured by the police it could lead to the release of Krzysztof and the capture of the perpetrators. Nothing came of it. Time, which was of paramount importance, was passing ineluctably and after nearly two years was eventually gone. In June 2003 Krzysztof was murdered. His tortured body was found three years after his death.
Since moving the whole trial to the northern city of Olsztyn in 2005, the process was sped up. The perpetrators were finally caught and all of them pleaded guilty. Three killers would spend the rest of their lives in prison.
But it soon appeared that their fate had not yet been sealed. In January 2007, the leader of the group of kidnappers, Franiewski, wrote a letter to the court: “I fear I will be found hanged in this cell”. Six months later, just before the announcement, Franiewski was found hanged in his cell. The same day, 18 June 2007, Mariusz K. was the guard on duty watching Franiewski’s cell. Two years later in July 2009, the 34-year-old guard was found hanged on a tree by the road near Olsztyn. The deputy justice minister immediately came out with a statement that the police were not treating the guard’s death as suspicious.
The second kidnapper, Kościuk, had a chance to hear the court’s verdict but he was found hanged by a sheet in the sanitary area of his cell, shortly after the announcement of the sentence. His body was covered with mysterious bruises on his hands and legs. The investigation did not conclude whether he was under the influence of toxic substances before his death. The official cause of death was suicide.
The last member of the gang, Pazik, was believed to have said to his co-prisoner: “In this case there is going to be a third dead man”. He was dead a few days later. The official cause of death was, predictably, suicide by hanging. This time however, the one who paid for his death was the then justice minister, Zbigniew Ćwiąkalski, who handed in his resignation soon after that event. It is worth mentioning that he had concluded at some point that it was highly unprofessional to announce that anybody could restrain a prisoner from committing suicide if he wanted to commit it.
Although this suicidal rush has raised suspicions, it is not the only aspect of this case that has fuelled the conspiracy theories. The list of examples of negligent and incompetent police operations and botched work by the prosecutor’s office is more than impressive.
It has now been revealed that the police did little to catch the kidnappers. They failed to monitor the handling of the ransom, though they knew about the operation 24 hours in advance. Investigators failed to record telephone conversations between the Olewnik family and the kidnappers. The family of the kidnapped man never had a police negotiator despite the kidnappers maintaining contact for two years until the very murder. Moreover, the police failed to follow several leads, even ones indicating the place of imprisonment and the kidnappers’ names. Finally, on one occasion a police car containing Olewnik case files was stolen, while on the other, over 200 pieces of evidence were destroyed by, as described, a “sewage leak” in a police station.
The Olewnik kidnapping and murder case would be horrifying enough if the errors in the investigation had been caused by the negligence or incompetence of the police and the prosecutor. But evidence points to the crime being committed under the silent acquiescence of the crime prevention department. The current prosecutor, Kazimierz Olejnik, when brought before a parliamentary commission, described the Olewnik trial during its first three years as a total disgrace for the Polish justice system. It is beyond doubt that if the police and prosecutor had worked properly, the kidnapped man would be alive and free today.
Apparently, the shroud of mystery spreads not only over the whole sequence of suicide deaths but also on the role of the judiciary institutions. Although a number of the gang responsible were found guilty, the Olewnik family has always maintained that the criminals must have had the support and protection of some influential figures. In his letter to the president, prime minister and members of Parliament, Włodzimierz Olewnik claims: “I suspect that persons related to the judiciary or even to the state authorities are embroiled in the kidnapping”. He also said the murderers have been discreetly eliminated with impunity to keep them silent and to distort the evidence. Olewnik described them as being under an “axe” held by someone unseen and very influential. A number of political voices in Poland have confirmed that high-ranking individuals must have been involved in the Olewnik case. The way the investigation was led, the forgeries, false threads, and “suicides” all indicate that this was a cover-up attempt.
Apart from the political and criminal dimensions of Mr. Olewnik’s case, its emotional aspect should also be considered. We cannot forget about Mr. Olewnik as a devastated father, who, like K. in Kafka’s Trial, stands alone against the callous police machinery which has done its best to prevent him from finding the truth and the people responsible for his son’s death. The same machinery that supported the version that Krzysztof Olewnik faked his own kidnapping, then kept himself hidden in a basement for two years, finally killed himself, and buried himself two metres beneath the ground in the forest. The same machinery that, as Mr. Olewnik claims, tried to imprison his daughter, both sons-in-law, and finally destroy his company. The same machinery that used an incident between the prosecutor and Mr. Olewnik as an occasion to sue the latter on the basis of an alleged assault and battery and treat him not as the wronged person but as the criminal. Olewnik himself reveals that he had been prepared for a situation in which the media and the judiciary apparatus would attempt to shut his mouth. He admitted: “I feel like a great failure since I lost my son, but I will be even greater failure if I do not uncover the truth…”
Drobin, a small town near Płock, from which the Olewnik family originated, is commonly known of the main seat of the Tibetan Buddhist community in Poland. They host healers, clairvoyants and meditation rallies. Most of them are vegetarians who believe that nobody should kill animals for food, and the souls of people who no not obey this rule are doomed as their karma gets polluted.
Włodzimierz Olewnik’s company is connected to the meat processing industry. There is no doubt about the karma of the deceased kidnappers of his son. However, could the Olewniks’ terrible experience stem from their bad karma? Unless the case is finally solved, we may never know.
See also: Three Suicides, No Answers