Saturday, January 24, 1998

Polish Police Uncover Macabre
Corpse-Trading Scam

WARSAW, Poland (Reuters) - Polish police have uncovered a grisly scam in which emergency medical workers are alleged to have traded in human corpses and even poisoned patients to get cash from undertakers, investigators say.

Police confirmed Wednesday a newspaper report which said funeral parlors in the city of Lodz had paid up to $450 for notification of death, and alleged that medical staff might have facilitated death to collect the reward.

Poland's social security system allots about $976 for funeral expenses after death, allowing undertakers to clear a profit even after paying the alleged bribes.

``Months of work by police has confirmed signs of unlawful and inhumane acts by emergency first aid workers and funeral parlors,'' Lodz police spokesman Jaroslaw Berger said after the best-selling Gazeta Wyborcza published a harrowing report.

A former chief of the city's ambulance service, Ryszard Lewandowski, confirmed he was aware of sales of information about recently deceased patients, but said claims of murder were false.

``We were talking with lawyers about whether selling information about death was a criminal activity. Perhaps it may only be of interest to tax authorities who seek untaxed income,'' Lewandowski told PAP news agency.

Gazeta's front-page article Wednesday, which sparked a media outcry, said ambulances sometimes delayed arriving at a patient's home and alleged that some victims had been injected with poison to cause death.

Police are considering exhuming bodies of people who died in ambulances to check for traces of poison.