Saturday, June 09, 2007

US millionaire accused in murder of Polish police chief

Edward Mazur, now a suburban Chicago businessman is accused in the assassination of a
Polish law enforcement official
Killed by a hit man: National Police Chief Marek Papala (left) was found dead in 1998. Poland is now trying to extradite millionaire businessman Edward Mazur to stand trial for arranging Papala's death. It was a notorious crime that rocked a nation and has lain unsolved for nearly a decade.

But now, nearly half a world away, police seem to be finally moving towards unmasking the killer of Poland's national police chief.

Nearly a decade after Marek Papala, the Polish equivalent of the head of the FBI, was assassinated outside his Warsaw home, the investigation has led to a Chicago suburb 7,600 km away.

US agents descended on Glenview in a raid last year and arrested immigrant Polish businessman Edward Mazur at his luxury home over allegations he hired a hit man to kill Papala.

Today, the 60-year-old millionaire and American citizen sits in a Chicago jail, awaiting word on whether he will be extradited to his native Poland. A federal magistrate heard testimony last month and is expected to rule in the coming days.

Polish authorities have not offered a clear motive for the 1998 gangland-style slaying of Papala, who was killed with a bullet to the head.

But Polish lawmakers and analysts have speculated the 39-year-old was targeted because he threatened to disrupt trafficking in narcotics or guns.

Polish officials say Mazur led a double life - fostering a public image as a good-natured entrepreneur while secretly forging ties to gangsters-and hired the killer for $40,000.

There has not been a visible outpouring of support for Mazur in Chicago's enormous Polish community - the world's biggest outside Poland and said to contain as many as 800,000 members.

But friends of Mazur's said it is inconceivable he could have been mixed up in such dirty dealings. They describe a gentle, generous father of three who never even drank at his soccer club's frequent parties.

"No way," said Jozef Karkut, head of Chicago's Polish-American Wisla soccer club and Mazur's friend for more than 30 years. "Not a person like Edward could do that."

Until his arrest, Mazur seemed to be living the American dream. He moved to the US in the 1960s and earned a degree in engineering. He married and moved to Chicago's suburbs, where he engaged in philanthropy between business trips to Poland, where he associated with government ministers.

Mazur's attorney Chris Gair said that the two were acquaintances and Mazur arranged for Papala to take English courses at Chicago's Dominican University shortly before he was killed.

Mazur had also planned to fly with Papala to Illinois to bring him to the university, said another Mazur supporter, Chicago-based journalist Andrew Wasewicz.

"You wouldn't murder a guy who is supposed to go with you to the United States," he said. "It doesn't add up. From what I see, there is something fishy here."

At the time of his death in June 1998, Papala had recently resigned as national police chief and was about to start another job as Poland's police liaison to the European Union. His wife found his body as she went to walk the family dog.

Mazur has not been indicted, but US prosecutors say he faces solicitation-of-murder charges if he is flown to Poland. If convicted, he could get life in prison.

In 2002 testimony in Poland that relied heavily on one witness, Mazur emerged as a mastermind of a plot to kill Papala.

Artur Zirajewski, a gangster serving prison time in Poland in a separate case, described a meeting with Mazur two months before Papala's slaying. "There was conversation about the hit man - no one asked about his particulars, only if he was good," Zirajewski testified.