Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Tarpon deli owners charged with fraud in Poland
A couple is arrested and charged with defrauding a company in their native Poland.

By RICHARD DANIELSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003

TARPON SPRINGS -- To acquaintances, Jacek R. Kruszczynski and his wife, Malgorzata J. Kruszczynska, seemed like new immigrants determined to live the American dream.

At the Daisy Polish Deli, the store he ran on U.S. 19 in Holiday, Kruszczynski had people call him Jack. Along with kielbasa sausage, pierogi turnovers and pastries, he sold hard-to-find canned goods and sweets along with Polish greeting cards, compact discs and movies on DVD.

A mile and a half to the south, in the Forest Ridge subdivision, the family owned a new home with a three-car garage and a pool. Kruszczynski told neighbors his two elementary school-aged sons were helping him improve his English. When a neighbor mowed part of his yard, he returned the favor with a gift of smoked sausage and Polish doughnuts.

"As you'd walk by the house, you'd smell some real good stuff coming out of the place," neighbor Roger Weber said. "From all outward appearances, they appeared to be a family working hard just to start a business."

But there was another side to the family, according to the FBI. Tuesday morning, federal agents arrested Kruszczynski, 35, and Kruszczynska, 36, at their home on a warrant that they helped defraud a company in Poland. Though married, the couple's last names are spelled slightly differently, said Special Agent Sara Oates, a spokeswoman in the FBI's Tampa office.

Polish authorities allege that Kruszczynski and others defrauded a Polish corporation known as Pollena by taking $304,000 worth of household chemical products and selling them on the black market. Kruszczynski and associates have been accused in Poland of paying bribes and kickbacks to a Pollena executive who allegedly helped him take possession of the goods, according to the FBI.

That executive also worked to subvert the company's efforts to collect payment for the goods, but Pollena's chief accountant uncovered the scheme in January 2000 and filed a criminal complaint. Polish authorities say Kruszczynski did business under the name "Jeans Centrum," a company registered in Poland under his wife's name.

Jeans Centrum provided false bank account information as part of the scam, according to authorities.

Kruszczynski and his wife arrived in the U.S. in February 2000 as visitors and lived in New Jersey before moving to Tarpon Springs, according to the FBI. In December 2001 they paid $170,000 for a new home on Wood Brook Street in Tarpon Springs, just south of the Pinellas-Pasco county line.

In February 2002, Kruszczynski and a partner in New Jersey formed a company, J.B.G. Triangle Enterprise, that does business at the deli's address, according to state corporate records.

Few neighbors said they knew the family well, but several were stunned to learn of the allegations.

"We very rarely saw them because they were at the deli late," said neighbor Marie Zinsmayer.

Kruszczynski had told neighbors that he had to drive up to New Jersey as often as once a week to pick up spices and sausage casing. He had mentioned perhaps putting his house on the market in December or January.

Several neighbors wondered about the welfare of the couple's sons. Oates said she could not discuss the whereabouts of the boys or details of the arrest.

Kruszczynski and Kruszczynska each were charged with one count of fraud in Poland, where an undisclosed number of others also have been charged in the scheme, according to the FBI. They were being held at the Orient Road Jail in Hillsborough County without bail Tuesday night. An extradition hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.

At the Daisy Polish Deli on Tuesday, the doors were locked, and employees at a neighboring business were surprised to hear of the arrests.

"They're really nice people," said Kyle Gorzney, a cook at the Villa Roma Italian Restaurant next door. He said Kruszczynski works hard and the deli stays busy. "I bet he cooks 1,200 pounds of sausage a week."

Monday, April 14, 2003

Poland eyes EU entry

By Mary Sibierski

WARSAW: First they prayed, then the leader of Poland’s Catholic Church and top businessmen in the National Chamber of Commerce (KIG) formed an unusual alliance in Warsaw on Friday.

Announcing their “serious misgivings” about the political instability and economic slide gripping the country, they voiced the hope that future membership of the European Union would provide the stability businesses need to prosper.

Polish Primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp and leaders from Poland’s National Chamber of Commerce (KIG), along with other business organisations, pointed to the danger of disarray in Poland. Public patience has been wearing thin owing to politicians being embroiled in scandal and modest economic growth coupled with record high — near 19 per cent — unemployment.

“Enough of these machinations,” Glemp said, referring to the political turmoil spawned by “Rywingate”, a high-level alleged corruption scandal which has cast a dark shadow of suspicion on top political leaders, including the prime minister.

Meanwhile, business leaders complained the scandals and associated instability were diverting attention from the critical task of introducing reforms to boost business and job-creation opportunities and so prepare Polish firms for competition inside the EU

“If there is no swift, radical reform of the legal and institutional framework of business development, then the entry of our country into the EU will not bring the desired benefits,” a KIG statement said.

KIG head, Andrzej Arendarski said: “Polish entrepreneurs know how to work. We’re not afraid of the EU, in fact we see huge opportunities there. But we are calling on the decision-makers, the parliament, the government to start a dialogue.”

He added: “Now there is a monologue.” The government was paying little heed to the concerns of small and medium sized enterprises, the backbone of Poland’s economy, as it forged ahead with competing plans to overhaul public finances.

“We as business people cannot fix all the problems alone, and the government can’t do it alone either,” the KIG head said.

Two government ministers have tabled diverging proposals aimed at overhauling public finances, but given the climate of political turmoil, few observers believe either will be adopted wholesale.—dpa

Friday, April 04, 2003

Bribery scandal turmoil threatens Polish PM
April 4 2003

Poland's embattled Prime Minister, Leszek Miller, has called for the 2005 general election to be brought forward, amid growing suspicions about his role in a corruption scandal.

Mr Miller is under increasing scrutiny over an affair that has riveted the country. The film producer Lew Rywin, who co-produced this year's Oscar-winning film The Pianist, allegedly tried to solicit a $US17.5 million ($29 million) bribe from the publisher and editor of Poland's leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.

Rywin said he was working for Mr Miller to change a hotly debated law on media ownership in favour of Gazeta's parent company.

Mr Miller denies any connection to the alleged bribe attempt by Rywin, a personal friend.

But President Alexander Kwasniewski said Mr Miller ought to have told police of the alleged bribe when he first learnt of it last year.

Mr Miller proposed bringing the election forward to June next year, saying: "We are on the doorstep of a new reality, where it would be helpful to gain a new democratic mandate."

The announcement comes in the same week that two more cabinet ministers left Mr Miller's Government, and just ahead of a referendum on Poland's entry into the European Union.

Mr Kwasniewski suggested less than two weeks ago that Mr Miller might have to resign to preserve Poland's chances of joining the EU.

MPs say he should appear before a commission investigating the scandal.

The New York Times

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Feature: Scandal and the Polish government
Special to UPI

WARSAW, Poland, April 2 (UPI) -- Polish news these days is dominated not by the war in Iraq, but the latest cross-fire among government officials over an alleged offer of Polish filmmaker Lew Rywin to bribe politicians on behalf one of Poland's biggest media companies.

The cross fire of questions regarding The Agora Group, which owns Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, comes from a special parliamentary commission formed to probe the scandal that has come to be known as Rywingate.

Since the ruling coalition of post-communist Democratic Left Alliance, known as SLD, and Labor Union form the majority in the commission and are asking questions to people associated with the ruling government, it's more friendly fire than hostile.

The conflict has been brewing since late December, when Gazeta Wyborcza published an article describing how Rywin had approached the daily's editor-in-chief Adam Michnik, a leader in the anti-communist opposition in 1970s and 1980s, with a proposition.

Rywin is one of Poland's best-connected producers to Hollywood, having co-produced Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" and "The Pianist" with Roman Polanski. The Polish daily alleged that for $17.5 million, Rywin would influence the ruling SLD to ensure that a new media bill would be favorable to Wyborcza's publisher as well as its parent company Agora.

But that would mean Agora could own both a national daily and a national television station.

Michnik, the editor, taped the conversation with Rywin so there is proof that it took place. But he did not release information about the discussion until five months after it happened.

The plot thickens further as the list of potential casualties from the debacle could even include Prime Minister Leszek Miller.

Michnik said his paper hesitated to reveal the conversation, as he did not want to subvert the government's position right before the key European Union-accession meeting in Copenhagen. Poland's potential entry into the EU remains a highly contentious topic in the government.

But given that the prime minister was aware of the goings-on, Miller, too, has come under heavy criticism, namely for knowing about an attempt at bribery, allegedly on his own behalf, but not ordering the Prosecutor General to launch an investigation. Under Polish law, this omission is itself an offence.

Miller's defense is that he didn't take the situation seriously. The prime minister is to testify before the special parliamentary commission on April 26.

To many Poles, the forming of the commission only blurred the affair as its members question numerous politicians, media specialists and journalists in sessions that often last several days. But the very fact that such a commission exists and its proceedings are public is a new standard in Polish democracy, even if the ruling coalition has a majority in it, quite unlike in the established democracies.

Live coverage of the hearings keeps attracting a huge portion of the viewership -- making the scandal, which has the media in the background even more of a media event.

Still, it is far from being explained and comments on how particular hearings contributed to the clarification of the scandal vary in dependence of political affiliation of the commentators. There is one underlying assumption, though: the Rywingate, as it is known in Poland, has seriously endangered the position of Miller.

Michnik has repeatedly denied that Miller could be in any way linked to the scandal. Miller is "neither corrupt, nor stupid," Michnik said. Given other problems Miller has had recently, his testimony next week may be crucial not only to the clarification of the Rywingate, but also to his own political career.