Saturday, May 19, 2001

Sejm increases police powers

The Polish parliament, or Sejm, decided to very much increase the arsenal of means police can apply in order to fight crime. The decision, still to be passed in the Senate and signed by President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, was not without its controversies.

If the bill takes effect, the police will able to obtain classified information from banks and telecommunication, freely perform so-called "police provocation" (eg making controlled purchase of illegal material) and equally freely make video and audio recordings in order to facilitate investigations.

Replying to the SLD's criticism that such huge privileges could easily lead to abuse, Internal Affairs and Administration Minister Mrek Biernacki said: "A fundamental bill has been passed; it remains in accord with regulation of the European Union and standards of human rights and it improves fight with crime." He added that the new bill would also help fight corruption as the police would from now on be entitled for "bribe provocation" (offering bribes to officials to check their honesty).

According to the chairman of Transparency International, Prof Antoni Kaminski, such expansion of the police rights is needed, but the police themselves should be supervised.

Sunday, May 06, 2001

Bad Guys Behind Badges

Five policemen from Warsaw Police Headquarters have been detained for colluding with a gang of Pruszków car thieves.

Among those arrested is the chief of the car theft department. Over the past six years, the policemen sold information and police uniforms to the gangsters, while fighting the mobsters' underworld competition and helping provide legal documentation for the stolen cars.

A special group of 20 policemen and 10 members of an anti-terrorist unit from Silesia made a sudden dawn raid April 26. The operation, kept in strict secrecy, was preceded by a fortnight of reconnaissance. The squads were accompanied by the five Katowice prosecutors in charge of the investigation.

Five high-ranking officers from the capital's police force were detained. Four of them faced charges of collusion in an organized criminal group, generally referred to as the Pruszków gang, in the years 1994-2000. One of the detained policemen is accused of accepting bribes and false depositions. All five were taken to Silesia, while the prosecutors are requesting their provisional arrest.

The police gang was unmasked by the Katowice prosecutor's office, which has been conducting an investigation into the "auto section" of the Pruszków gang. One of the members of the gang agreed to cooperate with the prosecutor's office and expose the gang's links to the police. He is to have the status of state witness.

According to the investigation's findings, the detained policemen sold the gangsters 10 police uniforms for $1,000. The uniforms were later used during attacks on Transport International Routiřre trucks. The policemen regularly provided the gangsters with information about police investigations, arrest warrants and wanted lists. They also sold the criminals the latest car alarm signal decoding scanner, which they seized from a rival gang, for $10,000.

The policemen, following telephone calls from the bandits, used to drive stolen cars through police blockades or indicate a car easy to steal to the thieves. One of the detained officers, Marek D. from a Mokotów police station, arranged the legalization of stolen cars using his contacts with the transport department of the Mokotów district administration. The department's head, Ryszard M., had been detained still earlier. According to prosecutors, the policemen received $500-$8,000 for their services.

The scandal began when several well-known car thieves, who only stole cars exceeding zl.100,000 in value, were detained at the end of 1999. They admitted to having worked for the Pruszków gang. The police operation, conducted for over a year, eventually led to evidence revealing the identities of the scam's architects. At the beginning of February, policemen from Katowice detained 11 members of the Pruszków gang in Warsaw.

According to the Katowice prosecutor's office, in 1993-2000 the thieves stole more than 500 cars, worth over zl.500 million. This would not have been possible without the cooperation of the detained Warsaw police officers.
Marcin Mierzejewski