Saturday, December 29, 2007

Krauze charged with obstructing justice

The District Prosecutor of Warsaw has charged Polish businessman Ryszard Krauze with giving false evidence during an investigation into corruption in the agricultural ministry.

After he was read out the charges, Krauze pleaded not guilty.

No restrictions of movement were placed on the millionaire businessman.

Krauze is accused of obstructing an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Agency into land deal kickbacks at the ministry of agriculture August.

The case became front page news and led to the sacking of ministers involved in the alleged scam, including the then vice-premier Andrzej Lepper

Krauze has waved the right to keep his surname private during the legal process

Friday, December 28, 2007

Football corruption suspects released on bail

Two directors of Poland’s National Sports Centre, Krzysztof S and Tadeusz M, arrested on charges of corruption within Polish football, were released on bail as far back as 18 December, Rzeczpospolita has just learned.

The directors were arrested in June after a sting operation by the anti-corruption agency. According to Rzeczpospolita, evidence by officers from the agency led to the arrest of former sport’s minister Tomasz Lipiec.

On 18 December the prosecution appealed to the court to offer terms of bail and impose restriction of movement on the directors of the national sports centre.

Minister of Justice Zbigniew Cwiakalski told the daily that he, too, has just learnt of the men’s release, although he added that he does not, in law, have to be informed about each individual case.

Over 70 officials, managers and players have been arrested in connection with wide spread corruption within Polish football leagues.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Poland sends a private plane a month to get back criminals who have fled to UK

Polish police are being forced to fly private planes to Britain each month to pick up hundreds of criminals wanted in their home country.

The number of extradition requests from Polish authorities for criminals who have fled to the UK has soared 14-fold in the past two years.

To cope with the surge, Poland is flying a private plane to the UK each month to pick up hundreds of suspects caught by Scotland Yard.

Those arrested are wanted for crimes including murder, rape, robbery, burglary, drugs and theft.

Extradition requests from Poland make up more than a quarter of all requests.

In the last 12 months, officers from the Metropolitan Police's Extradition Unit have been asked to track down 257 Poles across the UK.

The number is 70 per cent higher than from any other country. The second biggest requesting country is Lithuania with 76.

Police attribute the alarming rise partly to Poland's effective use of the European Arrest Warrant which came into force in January 2004.

But the sheer number of Polish nationals wanted by police in their home country raises concerns over how many are committing crimes here and how many may be slipping under the radar of the Polish authorities.

About 5 per cent of foreign suspects are already in jail for a crime committed in the UK when the Met is issued with an arrest warrant for them.

At least 600,000 Poles have come to the UK since Poland joined the EU in 2004 though the Government admits it does not have an accurate figure.

Schoolgirl Katerina Koneva, 12, was strangled at her home in Acton, West London in May 1997 by Andrezej Kunowski who had spent 15 years in jail in his native Poland for a series of sex offences.

The 51-year-old was awaiting trial for further sex attacks when in June 1996 he was freed on bail for urgent medical treatment and absconded. He came into Britain on a tourist visa.

He remained at large in the UK for six years after Katerina's murder and only when he was arrested for the rape of a student did police realise he was Katerina's killer. He is serving life in prison in Britain and will never be released.

Scotland Yard's Extradition and International Assistance Unit won £1million in funds this month for more officers to cope with the huge increase in workload.

There were 955 extradition requests in 2007, a rise of 78 per cent on the previous year. Other top requesting countries were the Czech Republic with 41, Germany with 40, Albania, 31, and France, 23.

In 2006, Poland was top again with 87 requests out of a total of 538. In 2005, Poland placed 18 requests, making it seventh in the league. Lithuania was top with 59 requests.

This summer British and Polish authorities discussed how to deal with the huge numbers being extradited and decided that using a private plane for the sole purpose of extradition was the best option.

The first flight touched down at a London airport in October and 20 suspects were flown back. In November, 17 were extradited.

Detective Inspector Paul Fuller, head of Scotland Yard's Extradition Unit, said: "It is a unique idea concerning the Metropolitan police and the Polish authorities.

"Of course it's been a problem for us to be at the airport to hand these people over 257 times.

"Now every month the Poles are supplying a private aeroplane that flies to the UK and takes them back en masse.

"Yes, we have half a day of difficulties with getting a lot of suspects in the same place at the same time but it is only for half a day with a little bit of planning before it.

"It's a win for everyone because I haven't got people at the airport every day. The Polish don't have to pay for airline tickets for escorts over here and back, along with a prisoner. They can do it all at once."

He added: "There are some wanted for minor offences but there are also many for serious offences - murder, robbery, rape, GBH - and we are successful in getting them and we will continue to be.

"If they are in England to hide, we'll find them."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Widzew Lodz and Zaglebie Lubin football clubs named in corruption scandal

Two Polish football clubs Widzew L?dz and Zaglebie Lubin have heard charges of fixing match results for bribes in a high profile corruption case.

The allegations are in respect of the seasons four years ago when the teams played in the Polish second league.

According to the evidence in possession of the Prosecutor’s Office in Wroclaw, Zaglebie Lubin is guilty of setting up 9 games in the 2003/04 season, when the club made its way to the first league.

Widzew L?dz is guilty of the same in the 2004/05 season, having illegally arranged results of 12 matches. In that season, the L?dz team nearly achieved promotion to the first league, but lost against Odra Wodzislaw in the play-offs.

“We have invited representatives of Widzew and Zaglebe for the next hearing on 3 January 2008 to provide explanations. A verdict should not be expected before January 10”, says Robert Zawlocki, Polish Football Association (PZPN) deputy, quoted on the web site.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Polish Rapist Who Escaped Iceland Caught

A Polish citizen, who is suspected of having raped a woman in Selfoss, south Iceland, and breached a travel ban issued upon him by leaving the country on December 5, was caught on the border between Poland and Germany by the Polish police on Monday.

The Icelandic state requested the suspect be extradited to Iceland, but Polish authorities have denied their request, based upon Polish law stating that their own citizens cannot be extradited to other countries, Morgunbladid reports.

The suspect was able to leave Iceland because the police in Selfoss failed to notify the police in Sudurnes, where Keflav?k International Airport is located, that the man was not permitted to travel out of the country.

Police in Selfoss believe another Polish citizen, also suspected of having participated in the rape, has left Iceland as well. They were both reported wanted in the Schengen area.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quietly, the Polish-German border dissolves

As of midnight Thursday the once contentious border between Poland and Germany will be thrown open. For the most part, it has been more whimper than bang for the fall of one of the most historically fraught and violently fought over frontiers on earth.

Traveling along the 450-odd kilometers, or about 280 miles, of the border - from the German town of Zittau in the south, where the German and Polish dividing line ends at the border of the Czech Republic, to the Polish port city of Szczecin in the north - what is most striking is the relative indifference along the way to the change.

For centuries Poland was Europe's marching ground - when it was not dismembered and wiped off the map entirely by some combination of Germany, Austria and Russia. The Kingdom of Poland battled the Teutonic Knights as far back as the Middle Ages and memories of Hitler's Blitzkrieg storming into the country in September 1939 are still alive in the minds of the elderly and the imaginations of the young.

Once Hitler's army was defeated, millions of Germans were forced out of major cities now in Polish territory, like Breslau, now known as Wroclaw. Cities along the rivers Neisse and Oder that form most of the border became divided towns like Frankfurt-Slubice or G?rlitz-Zgorzelec.

That the peaceful dismantling of border posts is largely a ceremonial nonevent testifies to the quiet success of the often-criticized project of European integration. But historical grudges linger under the surface as distance and distrust are still discernible. Communities on the two sides of the rivers that form almost the entire border remain culturally and linguistically apart.

"After the war, the cities turned away from each other," said Ryszard Bodziacki, the mayor of Slubice, which was once part of Frankfurt an der Oder, the Eastern German city not to be confused with the better-known Frankfurt am Main in the West. Bodziacki is working with his counterparts across the Oder to reintegrate the two cities, through joint work by police forces and fire brigades or by sending groups of Polish children across the river to Germany for school.

That cooperation will be easier in practice starting Friday. The border controls are ending because Poland is officially joining the borderless zone within the European Union known as the Schengen area. It is named after the town in Luxembourg where the first agreements to open their boundaries were signed by a group of West European countries including Germany and France in 1985.

Now Poland and eight other countries, most from the former Soviet sphere of Central and Eastern Europe, have adopted the common visa, asylum and external border procedures required for membership. The police will still perform patrols and spot checks inside their borders. But once the new members have joined, it will be possible to drive clear from Lisbon to Tallinn without taking out a passport or identity card.

The movement east of the common border to include Ukraine and Belarus has caused jitters in Germany. The German police have attracted some attention by staging protests to warn against what they say will spell increased crime in Germany once controls at border posts cease.

Crime gravitates toward open borders, their union representatives say, and the earnings gap between wealthier Germany and its poorer neighbors like Poland and the Czech Republic create a temptation for criminals. Josef Scheuring, chairman of the federal police union that organized the protests, said the change had happened on a political timetable.

Politicians made decisions before the technical side, including the delayed upgrade to the Schengen information-sharing network and the harmonization of radio frequencies between the German and Polish police, could be worked out. "Greater Europe will only be accepted by the people if it is safe," said Scheuring.

Poles could be forgiven for bristling at the grumblings in Germany. With seeming unanimity they say they view their country's entry into the borderless zone as a mark of great pride and proof that they have achieved an equal footing with their partners to the west.

"This border is well protected," said Andrzej Adamczyk, deputy director of the Polish border guard's border-management office. He pointed out that European Union officials had approved their work, which included major investments in night-vision technology, mounted cameras and new border vehicles.

To the extent that the fall of the border has been followed in the German media, it has been largely scare stories of people in the border regions installing metal shutters, putting up barbed wire and even buying guns. But talking to locals along the way, the fortifiers seem to be a vocal minority rather than part of a popular groundswell.

"It's reasonable to let people live and travel freely," said Christian Pfeiffer, 30, a psychologist, who was out with friends at a Christmas market in the German border town of G?rlitz. One of them, an avid kayaker, added that the benefit to him would be coming to shore on either side of the Neisse, which forms the boundary between the countries there, without breaking the law.

The border is by now just a minor nuisance, crossed easily by Germans and Poles for cheaper gasoline or cigarettes, or to go to work. Citizens of countries in the European Union already pass through the soon-to-be-closed checkpoints with little more than a flash of the identity card in most cases, and no passport is necessary. Lines can back up at times, especially for trucks on major transit routes such as the highway a few kilometers south of the twin cities of Frankfurt an der Oder and Slubice.

"I think it's a good thing. There won't be any queues," said Monika Kraska, 22, a hairdresser in Slubice. Germans clients visit the tiny hair salon where she works for inexpensive haircuts - just 12 zlotys, or about $4.75, for a simple men's haircut. Kraska said she crossed over to shop in the fancier clothing stores on the German side in Frankfurt an der Oder several times a week, but never hung out or went to clubs there.

Notably absent from the discussion is the long-expressed fear that Poles will come and take German jobs. When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Germany left significant legal hurdles in place to prevent their neighbors from coming to work.

Instead ambitious, highly mobile Polish workers moved in droves to more welcoming parts of Western Europe, Britain and Ireland in particular, where they have been credited with fueling economic growth, passing Germany by - and especially its poorer, depopulating East - on the way.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Simon Mol charged with infecting 12 Polish women with HIV

Almost a year after he was first detained by police in Warsaw, the Cameroonian ‘refugee’, poet and human rights activist is finally charged by the prosecution service, and faces a long jail sentence.

Mol’s case, as it was revealed in a blaze of outrage in the Polish media in January this year, is a tabloid journo’s dream.

An African who had won refugee status and had become a well-known media figure, campaigning on human rights and race issues in Poland, was accused by numerous women in Warsaw of infecting them with HIV, while all along knowing that he was carrying the virus.

But the case is not just about whether he knew, or not, that he was HIV positive (although that is what the court, when he finally comes before a judge, will be deciding). When asked by the women to use protection before sex, he had refused, claiming that they were only asking him to wear a condom because he was ‘an African’.

When the Rzeczpospolita daily went to Cameroon and Nigeria to examine whether Mol’s claims of political persecution in those countries was true, they found that his family, friends and work colleagues knew nothing about it. It seems that Mol was an economic migrant, not a political refugee. Mol's side of the story is here.

So, in one case we have a deadly combination of sex, race and politics. If you had to write a prototype tabloid shock, horror story, then this was it.

Of course, if the prosecution can prove that Mol knew he had HIV and had deliberately infected women as some kind of political ‘revenge’ – and this has been suggested in the press coverage here – then this is a very, very nasty crime, indeed, and nobody would be too upset if they slung him in jail and threw away the key.

Simon Mol and the ‘Warsaw Salon’

Many of the women who slept with Mol seem to come from artistic, liberal circles, known here as the ‘Salon’. Mol was a poet and writer (though not a particularly good one) who was a member of many cultural societies and political organizations in Poland. He was allied to the small Green Party, but also a member of an ex-pats’ writer’s club based in Warsaw.

After I was asked to join the same writer’s club, this summer, I was talking to one of the organizers about the Mol case. The guy told a familiar tale, of feeling ‘betrayed’ by Simon. Everyone was taken in by him, and not just the 12 women infected with HIV, and the many others who were lucky enough to get away with the encounter.

I also took part in a UK documentary about the culture of Polish soccer fans, which was filmed in Warsaw and Krakow late last year. One of the other contributors was Simon Mol, who was involved in the ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ campaign. I got a slightly worried email in March, this year, from the British producers of the film, asking whether Mol’s presence in the documentary would damage its credibility. It was too early to say yes or no, as nothing has been proved in a court of law, one way or another (and we should remember that it still hasn’t). I don’t know whether they have kept Mol in the film, but if I was the documentary maker, I probably would have left him on the cutting room floor.

I met Mol a few times, and he was a convincing character. He seemed genuine. And what he talked about – the inadequate refugee services in Poland, the racism he and other Africans encountered, remains, despite the fact the Mol himself allegedly appears to have been charlatan, essentially true.

Mol has left many angry, disappointed, and sick people in his wake. What is also worrying is the damaged image of genuine African refugees in Poland. They have joined the long list of victims of the actions of Simon Mol, the man whose poetry seduced a nation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Report on Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau ready

Julia Pitera, the government’s plenipotentiary for fighting corruption, said that she will hand over her report assessing the actions of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) to the PM this week.

She did not want to reveal any details of its contents, however.

PM Donald Tusk announced at the end of November that his meeting with CBA head Mariusz Kaminski will happen only after he receives Pitera’s report.

Pitera is a former head of the Polish branch of anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International.

The PM stressed that the report is to show which regulations of the CBA law are conducive to fighting corruption, which did not perform well under the previous government and which persons in the bureau turned out not be useful.

Tusk called his own trust in the CBA “limited”.

Mariusz Kamienski, appointed by the previous Law and Justice government - which critics say had been politicized to expose opponents of that government - claims that Pitera is staging an unprecedented attack on the CBA and submitted a private bill of indictment against her last week.

The CBA was the idea of the previous ruling Law and Justice party; it was to fight corruption in public and private spheres and has been operating since June 2006.

Critics say that the Bureau concentrated on ‘show’ arrests to make a political point, instead of fighting corruption.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Soccer corruption trial begins in Poland

Seventeen Polish soccer players and officials went on trial Friday in an alleged massive match-fixing scandal after the arrest of 100 suspects.

The defendants are linked to the Arka Gdynia second division club and face charges of offering and accepting bribes and membership of an organized criminal group.

The alleged ringleader, identified only as Ryszard F. under Polish privacy laws, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted by a provincial court in the southwestern city of Wroclaw . He was detained last year on charges of fixing first and second-league matches from 2000-06 and accepting an equivalent of $130,000 (€100,000.) He has confessed to accepting a bribe once and witnessing one other such case.

The other suspects face up to five years imprisonment.

Many of them are also suspects in investigations of match-rigging by other soccer clubs.

Prosecutors, who have been investigating the allegations since 2005, said over 400 domestic matches were fixed.

Last week, the Wroclaw court handed verdicts of suspended prison terms ranging from three to seven years in a deal with 17 other soccer officials, who pleaded guilty without trial. They were also ordered to pay back the accepted bribes.

Poland and Ukraine will jointly host the 2012 European Championship.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Poland slips down the index

Two rankings released his week – the FDI Confidence Index, and the Migration Integration Policy Index – show Poland performing poorly.

The real shock is the FDI index – Poland has slipped from 5th to 22nd in just 12 months. India and China are the sexiest for the investor.

The consultancy that produces the report says emerging economies are the most attractive. Of ‘Eastern Europe’ it says:

While executives see opportunity in Eastern Europe's lower labor costs and proximity to Western Europe, they remain concerned about corruption and the lack of reform in the region.
The perception of Poland has taken a dive at a time of rising confidence in the region, in general. Investors think that Poland still has poor infrastructure, is conflictual with Moscow and Brussels, still corrupt and, crucially, the cost of labour is going up.

Now, the above sounds, of course, like a description of how critics see the performance of the previous PiS government.

From Poland with love

Another index, this time the Migration Integration Policy Index, produced by a Very Big Brussels Think Tank, doesn’t rank Poland too highly, either. Out of 28 European countries measured, Poland struggled in at number 21.

Oh, bugger.

Ranked on anti-discrimination initiatives, access to the labour market, etc, Poland falls down on its …migration, integration, policy.

The above are both examples of how the previous government alienated the rest of...well, Planet Earth, quite frankly. It was a bit of, what they call in the trade, A Big PR Balls Up.

Will the next government improve Poland’s battered image? Well, if the body language between Tusk and Frau Merkel was anything to go by when they met in Berlin yesterday, then things could get steamy!

But one cold shower for Tusk could be a sign of things to come. Coal miners are getting restless.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Soccer corruption trial begins in Poland

Seventeen Polish soccer players and officials went on trial Friday in an alleged massive match-fixing scandal after the arrest of 100 suspects.

The defendants are linked to the Arka Gdynia second division club and face charges of offering and accepting bribes and membership of an organized criminal group.

The alleged ringleader, identified only as Ryszard F. under Polish privacy laws, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted by a provincial court in the southwestern city of Wroclaw.

He was detained last year on charges of fixing first and second-league matches from 2000-06 and accepting an equivalent of 100,000 euros (C$146,746). He has confessed to accepting a bribe once and witnessing one other such case.

The other suspects face up to five years imprisonment.

Many of them are also suspects in investigations of match-rigging by other soccer clubs.

Prosecutors, who have been investigating the allegations since 2005, said over 400 domestic matches were fixed.

Last week, the Wroclaw court handed verdicts of suspended prison terms ranging from three to seven years in a deal with 17 other soccer officials, who pleaded guilty without trial. They were also ordered to pay back the accepted bribes.

Poland and Ukraine will jointly host the 2012 European Championship.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Polish police detain 29 suspected of spreading child pornography

Polish police have detained 29 people suspected of possessing and spreading child pornography over the Internet, authorities said Thursday.

Officers searched 32 homes and offices nationwide, seizing 34 computers, 24 hard drives, more than 5,000 CDs and DVDs, along with floppy discs and video cassettes containing pictures of naked children, Poland's national police said in a statement.

Eleven people have been charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, police spokeswoman Agnieszka Hamelusz said. The rest are still being questioned.

In a similar operation carried out two months ago, Polish police arrested 55 people suspected of distributing child pornography.

Suspects face up to five years in prison for the possession of child pornography, and up to nine years in jail for distributing such material, if convicted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pole sues Wikipedia for calling him ‘a troll’!

Arnold Buzdygan (photo) – sometime wannabe presidential candidate, and a regular on usernet sites in Poland – went to court in Wroclaw, southwestern Poland, last week, to sue Wikpedia Polska for deformation of character.

Is the victim/litigation culture entrenching itself in Poland, as it has done in the United Kingdom? Let’s hope not.

Buzdygan claims that his fiancée’s mother refused to let the marriage go ahead because of an entry on the Polish version of Wikipedia, which, in the ‘controversies’ section, calls him ‘a troll’ for his vulgar interjections on blogs and forums. reports:

Buzdygan claims that calling him a “troll” is offensive. “This is a very grave offense among Internet users. Something like a paedophile elsewhere”, says Buzdygan, quoted by the news portal…

“Mr. Buzdygan’s claims are ridiculous. Wikipedia is not our product, it is being created by Internet users. Basically, anyone can contribute. The administrator’s role is solely to prevent vandalism”, said a Wikipedia editor…

However, Andrzej Malicki, at the Circuit Bar Council in Wroclaw, disagrees: “Internet media should adhere to the same rules as newspapers, for instance. If offensive material is published, the editor should bear in mind the possible consequences.”
Troll? ‘Offensive material’?

Wikipedia’s own entry on the word says:

Someone who intentionally posts controversial or contrary messages in an on-line community such as an on-line discussion forum or group with the singular intention of baiting users into an argumentative response.[1] It often has a broader meaning referring to any shady trouble making Internet activity.
So, it is possible to waste precious Polish court time – and it is precious: cases can take years to get as far as court – by claiming that saying someone is a ‘troublemaker’ on the internet is 'offensive'. LOL, as troll-types say.

It is bad enough when big business use the courts to shut people’s opinions up which they don’t like, but when internet users go to the same lengths, then it is about time we called cranks like Buzdygan something worse than a ‘troll’. How about 'dickhead timewaster'?

His fiancée’s mother is a very wise woman, indeed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Man brutally killed by Polish thugs for refusing to share cigarettes

Polish police have arrested two young inhabitants of Bialystok, north-east Poland, for brutally killing a 27-year old man waiting for his bus.

The man was stabbed over 20 times. Most probably because he refused to share his cigarettes.

The man was found on Sunday night in the city centre. He had flesh wounds on his back. Despite extensive resuscitation performed by the paramedics, the man died.

The police have established that while on the bus, the man and his 19-year old friend got into a fight with two rowdy-behaving men, after he refused to share his cigarettes with them. Things only got owrse when the four of them got off the bus. The 19-year managed to escape, but his older friend was kicked and hit and then stabbed with a switchblade.

The police first detained only one of the suspects, a 19-year old, on Sunday night. With the help of a police dog, they located his flat, where blood-stained clothes, the mobile phone of the murdered man and a switchblade, probably the one used in the fight, were found. The youngster was drunk.

The other culprit, a 27-year old inhabitant of Bialystok, was detained the following day. Both men will be hearing charges soon.

Drug smugglers held

In a related story, Polish police have cracked a gang smuggling the "date rape" drug ketamine from India to Poland.

Three suspects, including two Polish women both aged 25 and a 30-year-old Spanish man, were taken into custody in Kielce, central Poland. Police discovered more than 8kg of ketamine in the Kielce home of one of the female suspects.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Poland launches TV station that broadcasts to Belarus in attempt to bolster democracy

A new television station funded by the Polish government began broadcasting a mix of news, cultural programming and entertainment Monday to Belarus - part of Warsaw's ongoing attempt to bolster democracy in its autocratic neighbor.

The station Belsat hits the airwaves at 5 p.m. (1600GMT), calling itself "the first independent television station" to broadcast into the authoritarian state ruled by longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.

"When we look at the map of contemporary Europe we see that the Iron Curtain disappeared except for a tiny fragment on Poland's eastern border with Belarus," said Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of the Warsaw-based station. "So our television station is a measure to overcome this last, rusted piece of the Iron Curtain."

Poland, an ex-communist country now in the European Union and NATO, has voiced concern for years over the state of democracy in Belarus, a former Soviet republic of 10 million strongly supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.

Lukashenko, president since 1994, has often been branded by Western countries as "Europe's last dictator."

Poland has strained ties with Belarus, and has long criticized Lukashenko for stifling media freedoms and dissent.

The station initially will broadcast three hours a day, but plans to increase that to 16 hours by February, station officials said.

Warsaw is already supporting a radio station, Radio Racja, which broadcasts news programming into Belarus.

A unit of Polish state-run television, Belsat will broadcast entirely in the Belarusian language, with programming prepared chiefly by Belarusian journalists working in both countries.

The Polish government is Belsat's main contributor, with the Foreign Ministry pledging $8.6 million out of an estimated 2008 budget of $11 million.

Belsat estimates that more than 7 percent of Belarusian households own satellite dishes, which translates into about 700,000 potential viewers.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Polish fire safety drill

I work in a large public institution in Warsaw and it was ‘Fire Drill Day’ today, when we all practice what would happen if a fire really did break out in the building. And if this comical farce was anything to go by, then we are all going to fry alive.

Yesterday afternoon, someone from administration gave me a tip off. She said: “Listen, don’t tell anyone, but there is going to be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock tomorrow.”

So I went and told everyone that there would be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock.

This was useful news. The mornings are particularly intense where I work and this would help us organize a little better if we all had to troop out of the building and stand around in the cold for heaven knows how long, while firemen inside ran around pretending there was a fire.

Come the morning my immediate boss was told there would be a surprise emergency fire drill at 11 O’clock. So he told all the staff…who already knew, of course.

As 11 O’clock approached the atmosphere became expectant. At 10.30 the lifts stopped working. By 10.45 people had stopped working. By 10.50, when downstairs buying sandwiches (who knows how long this would last?) I saw people in coats and hats waiting in reception for the alarm to go off. It reminded me of the Fawlty Towers episode where all the hotel guests did the same thing, hanging around reception half an hour before the alarm. Basil Fawlty told them to go “back to their rooms and act normally.”

But nobody where I work was acting ‘normally’.

And then 11 O’clock finally came. And then 11 O’clock finally went. No alarm.

The only surprise left of the ‘surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock’ was that it didn’t happen at 11 O’clock.

By 11.15 it still hadn’t happened, either.

The Director came in to the office and told me that the reason why the surprise fire drill was late, was that the fire engine had gotten stuck in the heavy Warsaw traffic!

A bad comedy script writer wouldn’t have dared to make this up.

Finally, at 11.20 the Director reappears, walking down the corridor, opening each of the doors to offices, saying: “Ok, it’s started.”

People emerging into the corridors, confused. If the fire drill had started, then where was the fire alarm?

Meanwhile, fake ‘smoke’ started to appear from the corridor around the corner.

Who was not down stairs already on the third floor where I work, trooped their way down, with fake smoke hot on their heals.

Except …our department had a problem. One of us, Wlodek [all names are changed except when it is their real ones] is disabled, and cannot walk down stairs. And the lifts stopped working forty minutes ago.

Earlier the boss had rang security, asking what to do about this. We were told that four of us had to ‘bring him down in a stretcher.’ My boss asked them if they ‘had a stretcher?’

They hadn’t. So did they expect that we would have one?

By the time we got to the stairs, Head of Security emerged with two mates. They told Wlodek to ‘go back to the office and wait till it’s over.’ So I watched Wlodek and Security disappear back down the corridor and into the fake smoke gloom.

When we got outside, the fire engine had just pulled up, watched by a few policemen who had been posted on duty by the gates. Someone heard the Chief Fireman ask one of the hundreds of people hanging around, “Which entrance is the main one?’ He hadn’t even consulted plans of the building before turning up!

We were told the performance could last ‘up to two hours’, so I was glad of my sandwiches. I was even thinking of popping home. In the end, thankfully, it only lasted about 15 minutes, when we were called back in again.

The lifts didn’t work for another hour and a half, so we drudged back up the stairs, through the fake smoke, to find Wlodek hard at work in his office.

All in all, a totally pathetic performance by all public services, and…well, a little dangerous that public buildings should be in the hands of a bunch of fools.

Still, I haven’t laughed so much in ages.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Polish police seek thieving Santa

Polish police were searching Friday for a suspect who robbed a village grocery disguised as Santa Claus.

Witnesses of the hold-up Thursday in Ploty, northwest Poland, found it difficult to describe the robber who wore a Santa costume with a plastic face mask and long white beard, police said.

The thief gave his best wishes to the saleswoman before brandishing an item resembling a handgun and making off in a getaway car with several thousand zlotys (several hundred euros, dollars).

The robber chose November 6 for the heist, celebrated as the feast of St. Nicholas in Poland.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Poland sport officials tried on corruption

State prosecutors have filed corruption charges at a court in southwestern Poland against 22 people in an alleged soccer fixing scam.

The Wroclaw court opened preliminary hearings to be followed by a trial late next week, Polish Radio said Thursday.

If convicted, the accused face a maximum 5 years in jail.

The 22 accused were part of a group of 34 people, including soccer club managers, coaches, activists and soccer judges, charged with participating in an organized crime ring.

The charges involve accepting and giving bribes, and fixing match results.

Inquiries in the giant corruption scandal in the Polish soccer union has been under way for two years.

Prosecutors have been working on charges against about 100 people, the report said.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Polish prosecutor withdraws arrest warrant for billionaire Ryszard Krauze

Poland's chief prosecutor has withdrawn an arrest warrant for the country's fifth richest man Ryszard Krauze, a newspaper Dziennik reported today citing the prosecutor's spokesman.

In August the prosecutor tried to detain and press charges against Krauze, who controls several Warsaw-listed stocks including biotech company Bioton and oil venture Petrolinvest, as part of a wider investigation into leaks that undermined a corruption probe and led to a collapse of the ruling coalition.

Krauze has stayed abroad since the scandal broke out. He stepped down as the chief executive of Poland's largest computer-services company Prokom and agreed to merge it with a local peer Asseco Poland, in which he also has a stake.

The arrest warrant was withdrawn on November 15, the newspaper quotes prosecutor's spokeswoman Katarzyna Szeska as saying. The decision means Krauze will not be detained on his return to Poland.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Experts say arsonists set Polish official's car ablaze

Police were questioning witnesses on Tuesday after investigators said that arsonists set fire to a top anti-corruption official's car.

On Sunday, the private car of Julia Pitera, an official in the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, was found burning on the street in front of her home in a residential
district of Warsaw.

Two police experts said Tuesday it was a case of arson, according to police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski. He would not speculate about a motive.

Pitera, 54, a member of Tusk's Civic Platform party, is in charge of fighting corruption and abuse of power in state offices. Pitera told reporters Tuesday that she had no idea who could have set her car ablaze.

Tusk said he will consider assigning Pitera bodyguards, but she said she had not requested that.