Sunday, February 01, 2009

Three dismissed, Justice Minister resigned over Polish prison death

Three Polish justice officials were dismissed and another resigned on Tuesday amid the controversial suicide of a prisoner as Prime Minister Donald Tusk called for an investigation.

The prisoner, Robert Pazik, was convicted for murdering the son of a wealthy businessman. Pazik was found dead, hanging from a bed sheet in his cell on Monday morning. Of the men convicted for the kidnap and murder of Krzysztof Olewnik, Pazik was the third to commit suicide.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski resigned amid 'political and media hysteria,' and said that Tusk thought a resignation was 'best in this situation.'

Olewnik was held for a ransom of 300,000 euros (388,530 dollars), according to broadcaster Polish Radio, before being tortured and brutally murdered in October 2001. His family's lawyers had accused police officials of corruption and neglect of duty.

The murder victim's sister has claimed the prisoners were murdered to stifle the emergence of further details in the case.

Cwiakalski said he didn't feel at fault, but added there is such a thing as 'political responsibility.'

The head of the country's prison service, the national prosecutor and the vice-minister of justice will also be dismissed, Tusk said later on Tuesday. He added that a commission should be called to investigate the death.

'The matter calls for an explanation not only in the sense of justice,' Tusk said, 'but the public also has the right to fully access the information, so that there's no dark mystery hanging over this matter.

Politicians react to Cwiakalski resignation

In a related story, President Lech Kaczynski has received the news of the resignation of Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski with contentment.

Cwiakalski decided to resign, Tuesday morning, in relation to the suicide of Robert Pazik, the third murder to commit suicide in prison of Krzysztof Olewnik, the son of a wealthy Polish businessman.

The President's Chancellor Michal Kaminski, says that Kaczynski had reservations towards Cwiakalski from the very beginning of his appointment after the general election of 2007 and added that "at last the Prime Minister [Donald Tusk] agrees with the President and has recalled Cwiakalski."

Kaminski emphasized that the circumstances of the resignation have presented the legal authorities in an unfavourable light. The sister of the murdered man questioned whether it was possible that three men would commit suicide in the same case and wondered whether someone was desperate to cover up further evidence emerging.

Due to the suspicious deaths occurring on the watch of the justice minister he felt that his position was untenable.

Cwiakalski, who met Prime Minister Tuesday morning to tell him about his decision, said cooperation with Donald Tusk was fine and the PM received his resignation "with understanding." According to Cwiakalski, Tusk found the Justice Minister's resignation the best solution.

"Politicians are like sappers: they can commit a mistake only once, but I don't feel guilty (?)," said Cwiakalski.

Other parties have commented on the resignation.

Waclaw Martyniuk, a member of the Left alliance, said that the minister's decision is at least in some part a marketing or PR exercise by the government to fend off further criticism.

"I would be surprised if Civic Platform had not sacked Cwiakalski if he hadn't resigned," said Martyniuk, hoping that the case will be looked into anew by a new group of prosecutors and judges. The Left Democratic Alliance calls for more details to be released about the three suicides.

Zbigniew Cwiakalski will continue to head the Ministry of Justice until his resignation is signed by the President and Prime Minister, which may take a few days.