Wednesday, September 30, 2009

'The Beast' killer dies in prison

From: BBC
Kunowski was on the run from Poland at the time of the murder
A convicted killer dubbed "the Beast" who raped and murdered a 12-year-old girl has died in prison.

Police say Andrzej Kunowski died of heart failure on Wednesday at Frankland prison, Durham, where he was serving a life sentence.

He was jailed at the Old Bailey in 2004 for killing Katerina Koneva at her home in Hammersmith, west London, in 1997.

Police say he has also been linked to numerous investigations, including the disappearances of two young women.

He had previously served 10 years in jail in his native Poland where he became known as "the Beast" for 27 serious sex attacks on girls and women from the age of 17.

Police in West London say he is a suspect in the disappearances of 19-year-old student Elizabeth Chau in 1999 and Lola Shenkoya, a 27-year-old who vanished on her way home from work in 2000.

Detectives say they particularly want to speak to anyone who may have shared a cell with Kunowski during his time in prison.

Kunowski's trial was told he was on the run for raping a 10-year-old girl in Poland at the time of the murder.

Following his conviction in March 2004, Det Ch Insp David Little said: "He is probably the most dangerous sex offender I have ever come across and certainly the most prolific."

Katerina was strangled at her home on 22 May 1997 after she returned from school. Her father, Trajce Konev, came face to face with an intruder when he returned home and chased him into the street.

Kunowski was charged with murdering the girl when his DNA, which was taken after he was arrested for raping a student, matched a hair found on Katerina's cardigan.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marczuk-Pazura Arrested

From: Krakow Post
Polish celebrity caught accepting bribe
It has not been a good month for Polish television. First, the entire board of Polish network TVP was fired on the 16th, amid allegations of bias. And now, a popular member of the jury on the TV show "You Can Dance - Po prostu talcz", Weronika Marczuk-Pazura, was caught red-handed accepting a bribe.

On 23 September, Marczuk-Pazura had a clandestine meeting with the chairman of the Scientific and Technical Publishing House (WNT) - and, it turns out, officers from the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau. The meeting, which took place in a restaurant in Ujazdow Castle in Warsaw, was set up to facilitate the purchase of the state-owned WNT, which was up for privatisation. Marczuk-Pazura was to act as the middleman, for which she received 100,000 zloty from the chairman - moments before they were both arrested.

A spokesman for the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau stated that an anonymous informant had tipped them off, and they had been working on the case for months. Marczuk-Pazura is presently being held on corruption charges.

The Ukrainian actress and producer hails from Kiev, but has lived in Poland since 1991 and was at one point married do famous Polish actor Cezary Pazura.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Old man kills wife and son during court session

From: The News
A seventy-seven year old man has shot his wife and son dead and set their house near Warsaw on fire.

The shooting started at 11.30 CET, Tuesday, in a house in Celestynow near Warsaw. Two people were killed and several, including a judge, were injured. At the time of the shooting a special court session was being held in the house to establish who had the rights to the house.

A judge, solicitor, clerk of the court and family members were present at the trial.

The killer, with chest and arm shot wounds, was transported to a hospital in Warsaw.

The man set the house on fire in order to remove evidence. The arson as he had gathered cloths and petrol in one of the rooms. Fire reached the attic but was later extinguished.

Police are interrogating witnesses.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Polish priest robs bank

From: The News
A priest stole the equivalent of some 1,000 euros from a bank after having terrorized a woman cashier with a knife.

The robbery took place in Szamotuly, western Poland. The man was detained shortly afterwards by police, whereby he introduced himself as a priest.

On making an ID check it turned out that he is indeed a priest, recently working in a parish in Bia?ogard, northern Poland, though at present he is currently without any permanent assignment.

He is facing a prison sentence of up to several years.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Footballers get prison in match fixing scandal

From: The News
Eight ex-football players and officials from the Korona Kielce club in central Poland have been sentenced to two years in prison in connection with Poland’s wide-spread corruption scandal.

All suspects have been sentenced for bribery or attempted bribery of referees, Polish Football Association’s (PZPN) observers and football players from rival teams - all pleaded guilty.

Corruption scandal emerged at Korona Kielce football club broke out in 2003/2004 season, when the club struggled to get promotion to the second division. Out of 43 people charged, including footballers, referees and club authorities, 28 pleaded guilty.

Pawel W., chairman of the club, was sentenced to two years in prison. Additionally, he will have to pay 2,000 zloty (482 euro) in fines and is not allowed to organize professional sports events for five years. Dariusz W., a former coach of the Korona Kilece, was also sentenced and fined.

Over 230 people – players, referees, officials and members of the Football Federation (PZPN) – have been charged so far for being involved in match fixing schemes since the investigation was launched four years ago.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Accident at Wujek mine kills many

Twelve miners have been killed due to an explosion in “Wujek-Slansk” mine in Ruda Slaska-Kochlowice.

Initially it was thought that it was caused by methane combustion but new evidence shows that it may have been a controlled explosion which went wrong.

A fire burst out around 10:15 am in the mine, which belongs to Katowice Coal Holding. There were 38 miners in the mine's danger zone. Although a number of miners were trapped inside, 29 miners were able to escape.

The District Mining Authority (OUG) in Katowice and State Mining Authority (WUG) are supervising the rescue party. (KP)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Record fine for PKM Duda CEO for misleading investors

Maciej Duda, president of meat processing company PKM Duda, will has been fined zl.200,000 for misinforming investors in relation to denying speculation of having invested in currency options.

At the end of last year he stated that the firm was not involved in toxic options, while two months later it turned out that the negative valuation of the options stood at zl.29 million. The CEO defended himself claiming that he was misunderstood by the investors.

"I meant options of speculative nature and not standard transactions securing export revenues. I regret that the market understood me in a wrong way," explained Duda. The imposed fine is the maximum penalty that can be imposed for such misconduct.

"This is the highest ever fine for information manipulation imposed on an individual," said ?ukasz Dajnowicz, spokesperson of the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

EU to fine Poland over 100 million euro

The European Commission is demanding Poland return 400 million zloty in direct funds, paid during 2006-2007.

The EU accuses Poland of failing to supply a unified system of farm maps, in line with the EU's requirements, so as to be able to distribute subsidies to individual farmers.

Warsaw, on the other hand, says that supervision of the project was very precise and denies irregularities in procedure.

Poland will have to turn to the European Tribunal to avoid sanctions, which will be officially announced in two weeks time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ex-Celt’s match-fixing fine

Convicted ... Dariusz Wdowczyk
FORMER Celtic hero Dariusz Wdowczyk has narrowly dodged jail - after he was convicted of MATCH-FIXING charges.

The 47-year-old was instead hit with a £21,000 fine for bribing referees and footballers in his native Poland.

Wdowczyk only avoided prison after co-operating with the investigation into the huge soccer scandal - which has already seen 200 people sentenced.

A court heard Wdowczyk and his assistant Andrzej Wozniak had set up an elaborate system of bribery while in charge of third division Korona Kielce.

They had even managed to influence officials in the Polish Football Federation. And it is believed the pair set up more than 20 matches during the 2003/2004 season.

Wdowczyk - who played for the Hoops from 1989 to 1994 - was detained in 2008 following the major probe into corruption in Polish football.

The judge in Kielce said: "Sport's fair-play rules have become such an important social issue that they have to be protected by the law."

Wdowczyk - also director of football at Livingston in 2007 - was sentenced to three years, suspended for five years for good behaviour.

He was also banned from football for three years.

It is understood he has the right to appeal - but is not planning to do so.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rapper incited fans to beat up teenager?

Rapper Ryszard Andrzejewski, more commonly known as Peja, exhorted people gathered at his concert in the western city of Zielona Gora to beat a teenager who he claims offended him.

Police from Zielona Gora have opened an investigation into the case after the father of a 15-year-old man who was beaten at the concert filed pressed criminal charges. Two witnesses of the assault and the victim will give statements today. Police officers are checking CCTV recordings from the concert to establish who is responsible for the assault.

The teenager was beaten on Saturday during a hip-hop concert. Peja was one of the musicians who performed on that night.

After his show the rapper started screaming at a 15-year-old man who allegedly showed him a middle finger: “You f*****g f****t, when I was rapping, you b***h, you didn’t even know how you should f*****g s**t.” Later, Peja addressed the audience: “You know what to do with him, right? F**k the mother f****r up!” After that, a group of young people severely beat the teenager.

ASPE, the organizer of the Zielona Gora concert, deny that any illegal incidents took place during the event. Meanwhile, the mayor of Zielona Gora has sent a letter to all town councils in Poland, warning them of inviting Peja as “his behaviour is dangerous for participants of mass events.” The city authorities are also considering pressing charges.

If found guilty of inciting violence, the rapper may face up to three years in prison.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Polish cashier punished for not serving Italians

A Polish State Railways cashier from Bialystok, eastern Poland, has been punished for refusing to talk to Italian tourists.

In August, Italians returning home from the World Esperanto Congress wanted to know if one of them could a student discount ticket to Vienna. The cashier, however, refused to talk to them.

When a fellow passenger intervened to help the Italians, the cashier screamed: “This is Poland and we speak Polish here. I understand English but I don’t feel like using it.”

She then called over security guards and sold the tourists tickets without discount.

Unfortunately for the xenophobic cashier, the women who wanted to help the Italians turned out to be a journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza, who later described the incident in her column.

One of the readers filed a complaint against the cashier and her employer, PKP Intercity.

Yesterday the investigation decided that the cashier grossly neglected her duties. “The cashier will have her bonus lowered. We have already admonished her again about her duties towards passengers. We hope that such an incident won’t happen again and our passengers will always be provided with the highest quality services,” says Beata Czemerajda, spokesperson from PKP Intercity S.A.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Court rules anti-Polish slogans lawful

A German court in Greifswald, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has ruled that anti-Polish posters, displayed by the far-right NPD do not constitute a hate crime.

The posters, displayed in the city of Loecknitz near the Polish border, as part of the NPD’s federal election campaign, include slogans such as “Stop the Polish invasion,” and “Border closed to criminals”.

The German Ministry of Interior has notified the court in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern that it will be appealing against the decision, which it regards as an, “attack on human dignity and the peaceful coexistence of nations”.

Germans go to the polls on September 27.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In Poland, Corruption = Professionalism: Polish telecom regulator reluctant about second term

UKE chairwoman's term in office ends in May 2011.

The chairwoman of Poland's Electronic Communication Office, or UKE, is reluctant about the prospect of serving a second term after the current one ends in May 2011, having meted out significant fines against the country's dominant operator during her tenure.

"It is theoretically possible I may be proposed for a second term, but the question is whether I want that in this institutional environment," Anna Strezynska told Dow Jones Newswires in a recent interview.

Strezynska explained she would be inclined to reject a second-term offer because of the failure of consecutive governments to strengthen the public administration, including the telecommunications regulator.

In her view, the civil service sector should provide career opportunities comparable to those offered by the private sector in order to retain the best specialists on the market.

"As of today, my decision would be to refuse the second term. I haven't seen any serious thought in any government on the public administration as a managing body of this large and important enterprise that the state is, a stable professional team with specialists who are well paid and not intimidated with dismissals or anti-corruption laws that would ban any activity in the same sector for three years," she said.

Strezynska added that such anti-corruption laws would eliminate professionals from the market for too long without providing them with other employment opportunities or consulting jobs.

The new UKE chairperson will be nominated in early 2011 by the prime minister in office at the time and appointed by the Houses of Parliament.

The decision on the appointment of a new chairperson for a five-year term is likely take place amid a parliamentary election campaign if snap elections aren't ordered earlier. For those reasons, Strezynska's term may be automatically extended until a new chairperson is appointed.

Strezynska served as the acting UKE chairwoman between January 2006 and May 2006, when she was nominated for her first term.

For more than a year since her nomination, the validity of Strezynska's appointment was disputed due to the lack of clarity in the selection procedure. In 2008 the Supreme Court said all regulatory decisions signed by Strezynska were valid.
  • Note: Yes, what's the point of doing the job if you can't steal money...
  • Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Yet another scandal in ZUS

    After a corruption scandal the state Social Insurance Company (ZUS) is on front-pages again. The daily Rzeczpospolita reveals that ZUS has allegedly fixed a tender on identity cards for pensioners.

    At the beginning of 2009, ZUS put out eight million identity cards for pensioners to tender. Four companies bid for the contract, submitting tenders from 1.1 to 3.7 million zloty (260,000 to 890,000 euro). Although the main criterion was price, ZUS chose the most expensive offer.

    A company with the cheapest offer appealed ZUS’s decision twice and informed Civic Platform MP Antoni Mezydlo about irregularities. “In times of financial crisis, ZUS wanted to overspend 2.5 million zloty (600,000 euro) from tax payers’ money. That’s why I took interest in the case,” Mezydlo told Rzeczpospolita. In July, the MP met with the president of ZUS, Sylwester R. – recently detained on corruption charges – and soon afterwards the decision was reversed and ZUS accepted the cheapest offer.

    ZUS’s lavish spending

    A fix tender on identity cards for pensioners is not the only example of the Social Insurance Company wasting tax payers’ money. ZUS spent 330 million zloty (80 million euro) on construction projects and renovations in 20 buildings, including a new headquarters in Warsaw, which cost almost 200 million zloty (48.6 million euro).

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Richest Pole’s ex-wife testifies in murder case

    Grazyna Kulczyk, ex-wife of businessman Jan Kulczyk, one of the richest men in Poland, has been testifying in relation to the murder of General Marek Papala.

    Grazyna Kulczyk has been interrogated as a witness at the police headquarters in the western city of Poznan. Police have examined her connection with Edward Mazur, Polish businessman living in the US, who is believed to have ordered the assassination of General Marek Papla. Police have tried to establish if Grazyna Kulczyk contributed money to Mazur while setting up Stary Browar, a modern shopping centre in Poznan.

    Apart from Grazyna Kulczyk, other Polish businessmen will also be interrogated in Papala’s case, announced the Prosecutor’s Office.

    Police chief General Marek Papala was murdered while parking his car meters away from his Warsaw apartment in 1998. It took Polish authorities several years to apprehend Papala’s killer, a previously-unknown assassin. The lengthy investigation has led public prosecutors to Polish businessman Edward Mazur, who’s living in the U.S.

    Mazur is believed to have ordered the assassination. Polish justice authorities tried to extradite Mazur in 2005, but two years later, the Federal Court in Chicago ruled against the extradition, citing insufficient evidence. The Polish Prosecutor’s Office is going to file another motion for extradition of Edward Mazur as new evidence has been discovered in relation to the case.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Eels fail to slip through customs

    The largest seizure in the European Union took place in Szczecin, northern Poland where customs officials confiscated 25,000 kilogrammes of endangered frozen eels.

    The eels were smuggled from China and were meant to be delivered to a buyer in the Warminsko-Mazurskie region of Poland, in the northeast.

    A cargo container with the eels – specially protected under international conventions for nature conservancy – declared that they were Japanese eels, which are a not protected as an endangered species.

    Customs officials ordered DNA testing and determined that the eels, which entered the country from Hamburg, Germany, were in fact a rare species of Chinese eel. The total value of the confiscated goods is estimated at about 500,000 zloty (122,000 euro).

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Head of Polish state insurer detained-official

    The head of Poland's state social insurance body ZUS was detained on Tuesday with four other people on suspicion of corruption, prosecutors said.

    "All five are suspected of corruption. We now have to interrogate them and present charges within 48 hours," said Malgorzata Wojciechowicz, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office in the northern Polish city of Szczecin.

    A ZUS spokeswoman confirmed Sylwester Rypinski's detention but declined to comment on the matter.

    The social security agency is responsible for gathering fees as well as paying out state pensions, medical and other social benefits in the country of 38 million. Last year, ZUS took care of medical insurance for nearly 15 million people.

    ZUS receives around 20 billion zlotys ($7.03 billion) in state budget subsidies every year.
    Sylwester Rypinski has been heading ZUS since November 2007.

    In a related story, Polskie Radio reports that Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland, said he decided to dismiss Rypinski from the post. Rypinski and four other state insurer officials are to be presented with charges within 48 hours.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Polish football hooligans threaten to kill Irish

    Polish police are concerned that the Poland - Northern Ireland World Cup qualifier on Saturday could turn into a blood bath.

    Supporters of the Ruch Chorzow football club have threatened to kill Northern Irish fans on Saturday, during the World Cup qualifying match between Northern Ireland and Poland.

    In the first match against the two teams in Belfast earlier this year, rioting broke out before, during and after the game.

    “Your fans had better stay away from my town. They will get stabbed when they come to Chorzow. Maybe they will get killed,” Krzysztof, the leader of the ultra-violent told the Belfast Telepgraph.

    The Northern Irish newspaper warns that ‘Psycho Fans’ will be supported by thousands of football hooligans from across Poland, including the group’s rivals from Katowice, Poznan and Krakow.

    “We carry knives, taser guns, batons, machetes and we have no fear,” Belfast Telegraph quotes Krzysztof.

    The ‘Psycho Fans’ leader announced that after Saturday’s match, played at the Silesian Stadium in the southern city of Chorzow, his group will be known not only all over Poland, but all over Northern Ireland, as they plan to kill at least one Irish football fan.

    Polish hooligans want to take revenge on the Irish for the racist attacks on the homes of Eastern Europeans in Belfast in March after Polish-Irish match at Windsor Park stadium. Northern Ireland won the game 3-2, which resulted in violent riots, in which several people were injured and nine hooligans, mainly Polish were arrested.

    The Irish newspaper writes that it is fairly easy to buy machetes and other weapons, such as swords, knives, taser guns and pepper sprays, in Poland. They cost only 39 zloty (9.5 euro) and can be obtained without a license.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Russia - Poland wanted Jews sent to Madagascar

    A new book backed by the Russian government says Poland’s interwar foreign minister was an alcoholic and that Poland wanted to send Jews to Madagascar.

    Who started the war, and when, has a forward written by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was published in cooperation with the Moscow Commission for Combating the Falsification of History.

    The publication - part of a series of documentaries and statements recently, alleging cooperation between Poland’s 1930s governments and Nazi Germany - says that the then foreign minister in Warsaw, Jozef Beck, was worried by a lack of living space and considered sending the considerable Jewish population in Poland at that time to the island of Madagascar, a plan the Nazis had considered as part of the “Final Solution”.

    “The book is pure science fiction,” says Lukasz Kaminski from Poland’s state-backed Institute of National Remembrance.

    Launched on Wednesday at the 22nd International Book fair in Moscow, writes that, “From 1934 [after Warsaw signed a non-aggression pact with Berlin] Poland and Germany were close partners. Poland’s policy was to extend its territory, at the expense of the Soviet Union.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Polish government to increase surveillance

    The Ministry of Interior and Administration is working on a draft bill to allow police to wire tap all sorts of criminals, including those suspected of minor offences.

    According to the new draft bill, police will be authorized to tap the line, search computers, read personal letters, e-mails and SMS’ of rapists, pimps, pedophiles and people who produce, sell, share and store child and animal pornography, environment polluters, stock exchange cheats, people who reveal state secrets and hooligans.

    So far such surveillance methods were used only with reference to the most serious offences, including murder, terrorism, corruption, drug dealing and criminal activity, if there was a substantial reason to suspect that a crime had been committed.

    It is estimated that every year 20,000 bugs are planted in Poland. However, these are unofficial numbers.

    If the government accepts the draft bill, police may receive extended powers in several months.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Poles deep in debt

    Poles have fallen in to a collective debt exceeded 3 billion euro, shows a report by the Economic Information Office.

    In the last four months the amount of personal debt has grown by 20 percent and in the last year by 70 percent.

    Over 1.5 million people in Poland are indebted, shows the report. Most of the debtors are men. Women tend to pay off debts more often.

    The most indebted are the inhabitants of the Mazovia and Salisia provinces. In August the average debt in the regions equaled 8 203 zloty (1 960 euro).

    According to the report, a debtor is a person who has an active debt for more than 60 days, resulting from not paying off a loan, rent, TV license or alimonies etc.

    Wednesday, September 09, 2009

    Man who killed friend in car crash travelling at twice the speed limit

    A Polish man who killed his friend in a fatal car crash was “travelling far too fast” a lawyer has claimed.

    The Belfast Crown Court jury of nine men and three women also heard the prosecution allege that according to an expert engineer, 27-year-old Robert Baranowski was driving at more than twice the 30mph speed limit when he crashed his Peugeot 206 in Ballysillan Park in February last year.

    Tragically, his friend Dagmar Farkasova was thrown out of the car from the back seat and later died in hospital from a severe head injury.

    Baranowski, from Deerpark Gardens in Belfast, denies causing her death on February 12 last year by dangerous driving.

    Opening the case to the jury, prosecution lawyer David Russell told them that during the trial, they would hear from numerous witnesses how their attention was drawn to Baranowski's car as it came down the steep decline because of the noises the engine was making. He said that drivers in the oncoming lane noticed how Baranowski's car appeared to hit the kerb as the road narrowed at a traffic island before skidding into their lane, colliding with another Peugeot car and ploughing into a brick wall where it came to rest.

    “What we say is that what is clear from the witnesses at the scene who saw the lead up to the collision... is that the accused was travelling far too fast for this road and for the circumstances in which he found himself on that road on this day,” claimed the lawyer.

    The jury heard that during the police investigation, officers asked expert engineer Damien Coll to examine the scene and CCTV footage taken from police cameras in the area.

    Mr Russell said from the footage, which would be played to the jury during the trial, Mr Coll had been able to see Baranowski's car as he drove up the Crumlin Road and turned into Ballysillan Park. He told the jury that while Mr Coll had calculated Baranowski's average speed on the Crumlin Road at 33mph, he had accelerated up to 55mph during the first 109 metres of Ballysillan Park.

    The lawyer added, however, that in the 286 metres in the lead-up to the fatal impact, the Peugeot 206 had sped up to 63mph, just over twice the legal speed limit for the residential, built-up area.

    Baranowski was arrested and interviewed about the fatal accident and he told officers he had been driving home from work when the collision happened.

    He said while he could not remember the actual impact, he could recall hitting the kerb and the car being thrown to the right and the next thing he remembered was waking up in hospital.

    However, Mr Russell told the jury that in the Crown case, Baranowski's driving had “fallen far below” the standard expected of a careful and competent driver.

    “He was driving at greatly excessive speed, accelerating harshly from the Crumlin Road down Ballysillan Park, he failed to take account of the road and the circumstances ahead of him... and he failed to have any regard for himself or for the passengers who were in the car with him,” declared the lawyer.

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    Fans segregated over riot fears

    Eleven officers were hurt in the trouble in March
    A segregated fan zone has been set up for Northern Ireland football fans going to Poland amid fears of trouble at a World Cup qualifying match.

    Polish authorities have built the area in Katowice in a bid to ensure the event passes off without incident.

    Eleven police officers were injured during rioting between rival supporters at the corresponding fixture at Windsor Park in Belfast in March.

    Coaches have also been put in place to take supporters to and from the match.

    The Irish Football Association (IFA) said fans who had decided to stay in Berlin and Krakow would also be bussed to the match at Slaski Stadium in neighbouring Chorzow.

    The Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs (AONISC) has set up a special mobile phone network service to inform its members of places to avoid during their trip.

    Rival fans threw bricks, bottles and traffic cones on their way to Windsor Park
    IFA officials recently travelled to Poland with PSNI officers and representatives from the AONISC to seek safety assurances from the host nation.

    Raymond Kennedy, president of the IFA, said he hoped the measures would result in a trouble free occasion.

    "These activities have been organised with the fans' safety of paramount importance and should ensure the safety of the Northern Ireland supporters," he said.

    "We would urge all supporters to be aware of the fan zone and not to meet anywhere outside of the dedicated area.

    "I think it is important to let the fans know that plans are in place and if they are followed will provide some form of comfort for our travelling support."

    Gary McAllister, from the AONISC, said: "The Irish FA and PSNI have worked tirelessly on behalf of Northern Ireland's fans in the months running up to Saturday's game, and the Amalgamation and its members are extremely grateful for their efforts."

    Monday, September 07, 2009

    Revealed: £2bn cost to UK from cigarette smuggling

    His gloved hands thick with coal dust, the customs guard pulls out a carton of Classics cigarettes and drops it to the floor. Reaching into the coal scuttle, another pack follows and another, until the floor of the carriage is soon a mess of coal and smuggled cigarettes.

    The guard and his colleagues are searching the train looking for contraband goods, unscrewing ceiling boards and walls, removing curtain rails and searching the coal scuttles at the end of each carriage. They will make other discoveries before the Prague-bound train is allowed to move on.

    At the Ukrainian-Polish border town of Przemysl, the seizure of 4,500 cigarettes hardly solicits a reaction. The border guards know the discovery will barely impact on one of Europe's fastest-growing forms of organised crime.

    For criminal gangs from the Mafia to the Triads, cigarette smuggling is the new cash cow, and governments, companies and taxpayers are suffering the consequences.

    Europe's growing addiction to cigarette smuggling is burning a £7bn hole in the pockets of governments in western Europe through lost tax revenues, and leaving companies including UK-listed British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Tobacco nursing some £600m in lost sales each year.

    While the problem starts in many of the former Soviet-bloc countries and other parts of the developing world, the effects are being felt on streets across the UK.

    The illegal import of cigarettes that are either produced in counterfeit factories or legally purchased in low tax jurisdictions and smuggled into Britain is growing by the day and tobacco industry insiders question how it will ever be stopped.

    Criminal gangs are using increasingly creative means to flood Britain with smuggled packs of Marlboro, Superkings or Lambert & Butler, or eastern European brands such as Classics or Jin Ling.

    This month it emerged that children in the north east of England are being recruited to act as mules on smuggling missions. Seduced by the offer of cut-price air tickets and spending money, teenagers are flying to low-duty countries to fill their suitcases with cigarettes, returning to Britain to pass them on to criminal gangs.

    Four schoolgirls aged 15 and 16 who live near Durham narrowly avoided jail after being caught smuggling 200,000 cigarettes into Britain.

    Meanwhile, in April, HMRC investigators discovered £70m-worth of cigarettes in south London smuggled into the country in empty computer towers and air conditioning units. Documents with the smuggled cigarettes suggested the towers and units were to be filled with money to pay for the cigarettes and returned to the Balkans.

    In the UK, the cost of tobacco smuggling to the exchequer was estimated by HMRC to run to £2.6bn in the 2006/7 financial year, while losses for retailers, wholesalers and distributors are thought to run to £230m annually and £191m for the manufacturers.

    As the recession rocks the UK, demand for low-cost cigarettes is growing, driven by the dominant view that this is a victimless crime. However, tobacco industry insiders and customs officials suggest it is anything but.

    "The same groups who are making money by smuggling guns, people, narcotics and counterfeit medical products are the ones who are smuggling cigarettes. From the Mafia or Triads to terrorist groups," says a head of one big tobacco company's anti-smuggling unit.

    The attraction for criminal gangs is that the profits on offer are similar to those made by trafficking drugs, but the penalties are significantly less punitive.

    Experts claim a container of 450,000 premium packets of cigarettes transported from Ukraine and sold on the streets of Britain will turn a £1m profit. Similarly, a typical white van filled with smuggled cigarettes will turn a £60,000 profit, while a car load gives £6,000.

    "In most cases, if caught, smugglers will often only have their vehicles seized, so it is pretty low risk," says the anti-smuggling head.

    But while Britain is the profitable endgame for many smugglers, Poland is the European epicentre.

    "Poland is the turnstile of Europe when it comes to cigarette smuggling," says one senior investigator at a tobacco company. "It is the transit country between East and West."

    So far this year some 400m cigarettes have been seized by customs officials in Poland, compared to 565m in the whole of last year. That is up from 425m in 2005 and 470m in 2006. "Poland is the first line of defence when it comes to the battle against smuggling," says Bogdan Bednarski, a senior expert in the Polish customs enforcement department. "We stop perhaps 10pc of what is coming in, but smuggling and illegal cigarette production in Poland are both on the rise."

    Bednarski's estimate of seizure rates is seen as optimistic by many in the industry, some of whom put the figure at between 3pc and 5pc. That suggests between 12bn and 20bn cigarettes are smuggled into the country. Meanwhile, a total of 30bn cigarettes are thought to be smuggled out of Ukraine each year.

    Cigarette companies have received some of the blame, with critics arguing that the "Big 4" – Philip Morris, Japan Tobacco, BAT and Imperial – over-produce in Ukraine, knowing their products will be smuggled elsewhere. Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco agreed in 2004 to pay a combined $1.65bn (£1bn) to the European Union and member states amid allegations they were involved in smuggling. However, recent signs suggest the cigarette manufacturers are now taking a different approach.

    Poland's smuggling problem dates back to 2004 when the country joined the EU, since when the government has been raising tobacco duty levels to meet EU targets – twice this year alone.

    However, higher duties in Poland have only heightened the disparity with taxes and tobacco sale prices in neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Russia.

    A pack of premium brand cigarettes sells for nine zlotys (£1.93) in Poland. Meanwhile, a pack will sell for 6.8 hryvnia (50p) across the border in Ukraine but for 4.5 zlotys after it has been smuggled into Poland. The benefits are clear to see.

    That has persuaded criminal gangs and Polish nationals living near the border to exploit the difference by smuggling.

    At the main vehicle and pedestrian border crossing near Przemysl, a bar on the Polish side acts as a base for gang members who buy cigarettes from smugglers. They are then deposited in secret warehouses before being channelled to local markets or to more profitable EU countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

    Hano Tomasz, deputy director of customs for the region, says an average of 2,000 pedestrians, 1,000 cars and 130 lorries pass through the Przemysl border point each day. Officials typically confiscate about 20,000 cigarettes every 24 hours.

    While the situation is grave, it is a far cry from the situation last year. Then, Tomasz explains, 10,000 pedestrians were crossing each day, the majority for the sole purpose of smuggling.

    On the Ukrainian side of the border, the "ants", as they are known, would line up at booths to buy cigarettes, before cramming their vehicles or holdalls with cartons.

    A decision in December 2008 to reduce the maximum number of cigarettes individuals are allowed to take across the border from 200 to 40 helped radically change the status quo but it also provoked uproar in Przemysl.

    For many in the town, where the unemployment rate is 17pc, smuggling had been a socially acceptable trade. The decision to change the limit spelt an end to many people's "careers", resulting in mass protests at the border. Tomasz says more than 300 people blocked the border crossing, allowing no one to cross for three days and prompting the police to send out riot officers to deal with the situation.

    "Ten people were arrested. It was a very unpleasant time for the customs officers," says Tomasz. "The protesters threatened us, saying they knew where we lived or they knew our children. One officer's car was destroyed; another officer was beaten at a bar and ended up in hospital."

    While seizures have since declined dramatically at the border point, justifying the government's decision to change the import limits, overall smuggling levels continue to grow.

    "It is like a bubble," says the senior tobacco company investigator. "You squeeze it in one place and the problem just grows somewhere else."

    Success in reducing the numbers of ants smuggling each day has simply led to the growth of bigger consignments transported across the border and on into Europe via lorries or trains.

    In June local customs officials discovered 60,000 packets of cigarettes sealed in bricks on a train from Kiev. Other recent finds have included cigarettes hidden in rolls of toilet paper, salads bags or even baked in loaves of bread.

    Counterfeit cigarette production is also growing. Polish authorities have raided five illegal factories so far this year, each producing as many as 500m cigarettes a year.

    The problem is especially concerning because of the low quality of many of the products. Seized cigarettes have been found to contain worms, arsenic or rat poison. Outside one factory, officials found large piles of cow dung which was being used to fill out the cigarettes.

    Counterfeit production offers criminal gangs greater profits – double that of smuggling – and control of supply, but the problem remains small in Poland compared to non-duty paid smuggling because the risks are far higher. It costs around $2.5m to set up a counterfeit factory and a successful raid can see a gang's profits go up in smoke. Smuggling entails few of those risks.

    "The effort to catch smugglers is huge but the penalties are mostly administrative, simply fines. For bigger seizures over 100,000 cigarettes, sentences can be tougher but judges are reluctant to jail smugglers," says Bednarski. "It is frustrating."

    However, given the quantities of cigarettes many gangs are smuggling, they are increasingly using drug trafficking means to smuggle cigarettes, say experts.

    "Artificial floors and ceilings are being installed in cars, foil is being used to escape x-ray detection, and postal or cargo transport is being used to reduce the risk for smugglers," says the investigator.

    Drug trafficking also includes bribery of officials and Tomasz is doing his best to stamp down on corruption at the Przemysl border point. Two years ago, 70 customs guards were arrested at the crossing for alleged involvement in a smuggling ring.

    "The temptation is very great and criminal organisations work hard to find people who will collaborate with them," says Tomasz, who has helped to set up a hotline to encourage locals to report corruption.

    The Polish government is also trying to combat the problem by raising salaries for border guards. Wages are set to rise 30pc over the next three years, having not previously been increased for a decade. Custom guards will also be incentivised to make seizures, while a new law being introduced in Poland will allow officials working in mobile customs units to carry arms for the first time.

    Officials are also looking to technology to try to crack down on the problem. Bednarski is hopeful of receiving government funding to buy x-ray machines so that lorries and trains can be scanned at the border. However, at 10m zloty each, technology comes at a price. The customs official is desperate to bring in the machines before a new train line from China to Germany opens.

    "Once the line opens, the situation will get worse. Then you will see not only cigarettes but counterfeit handbags, medical products and clothing," he warns.

    Against that backdrop, is Bednarski able to stay upbeat? "As a customs man I am glad that there will be work to keep us busy, but that is the only positive," he says, with a wry smile.

    Sunday, September 06, 2009

    Nepal understands: Musicians escape Poland for Germany

    Fourteen Nepalese musicians taking part in an international folk competition in Poland disappeared in a car, presumably heading for Germany, without playing a note.

    Folk ensembles from Poland, Spain and Hungary have won awards at the International Highland Folk Festival in the Tatra resort of Zakopane, which attracted groups from sixteen countries, including also France, Norway, Indonesia and Nepal.

    The Nepalese group that caused the biggest sensation in Zakopane, southern Poland, though not for artistic reasons.

    When the group’s performance started, the jury was amazed to see ten people on the concert platform instead of twenty four. It turned out that the 14 musicians left for Germany in a car with their compatriots living in that country.

    Polish highlanders say they are not shocked by the incident, recalling that during communist times groups of Polish artists often took the opportunity of tours to Western Europe or the United States to seek political asylum. Their only regret was that the Nepalese should proceed with their escape until after the performance of the whole 24-strong group.

    Saturday, September 05, 2009

    “I was sterilized without consent!”

    Surrogate mother Wioletta Wozna says she was sterilized without her consent while undergoing a Caesarean section and are pressing charges against the hospital near Poznan, western Poland.

    The surrogate mother, who attracted widespread media interest during her battle to keep the child she gave birth to, claims that she was sterilized in hospital without her knowledge or consent.

    Wozna alleges that she found out that she will no longer be able to bear children when she returned home and read over the documents from the hospital. Wioletta and her lawyer have pressed criminal charges against the hospital.

    “In the medical documents that my client received, there is nothing to confirm [Wioletta’s] consent for such treatment,” claims her lawyer, Malgorzata Heller-Kaczmarska.

    The hospital refutes the charges but does confirm that the sterilization procedure took place. “The uterus was damaged and could rupture with another pregnancy,” said Elzbieta Nosek, responsible for the gynecological department at the Szamotuly hospital in western Poland.

    “We could not ask the patient for her consent because she was anesthetized. It would be necessary to wait for the drugs to wear off and then carry out a second operation,” added Nosek.

    The surgeon, Barbara Kaczmarek, claims that it was an extremely difficult birth. “It cost a lot in terms of health. I was happy that a mother of eight survived whole and healthy,” states Kaczmarek, who told the daily Gazeta Wyborcza that the operating team informed Wozna of the sterilization after the fact.

    Ewa Kopacz, Minister of Health, is awaiting an investigation by the District Attourney’s office, but stated Friday morning that doctors are required to follow a strict code of ethics and also work according to the law. A situation where a doctor is required to go beyond a patient’s consent is only acceptable if the patient’s life is in danger – and only then, such a decision can be made following consultation with a second doctor.

    “We decide about our own freedoms. No one has the right to violate one’s freedoms and no one can replace God in this situation,” stated Kopacz.

    Wioletta Wozna has become a media sensation in Poland, having signed a contract to carry a child to term for a couple unable to bear children. She then changed her mind and decided to keep the baby. A legal battle has ensued.

    Friday, September 04, 2009

    Two more netted in football corruption scandal

    Another referee and soccer coach from the south eastern city of Lublin have been detained in connection with a wide-ranging corruption scandal within Polish football.

    This bring the number of those charged with match fixing to 260 with 100 officials, players and managers in police detention.

    The investigation into corruption has been underway since May 2005. The accusations of fixing matches have been presented against referees, coaches, players, officials and members of the Polish Football Association. The charges concern games in the Ekstraklasa – Poland’s top division - as well as lower divisions.

    Among the suspects are many well known footballers, including a former national team coach, Janusz W and a top referee, Grzegorz G.

    So far only a few people have been sentenced.

    In April 2009 the former chairman of the Arka Gdynia team, Jacek Milewski was sentenced to four years in prison and Ryszard Forbrich, alias Fryzjer (hairdresser - a member of the Polish Football Association - to three and a half years.

    Both the Central Anticorruption Bureau and the Prosecutors Office are continuing their investigations and do not expect the two most recent detentions to be the last.

    Thursday, September 03, 2009

    Tourists abandon Poland

    The global finance crisis has eaten into the number of foreign tourists coming to Poland, particularly from the United States.

    Five and a quarter million foreigners visited Poland in the first half of this year, which is 16 percent less than in the same period in 2008, according to the Institute of Tourism.

    Only 90,000 Americans visited Poland, a drop off of 27 percent between January and the end of June, 2009.

    The majority of travelers - three million - came to Poland from western Europe, a 12 percent decline.

    Most foreign tourists were German (2, 01 million) well ahead of the British (210, 000), the Dutch (170, 000) and Italians (110, 000).

    As far as visitors from Poland’s Eastern neighbours is concerned, most came from Ukraine then Belarus and Russia.

    Wednesday, September 02, 2009

    Polish police search for terrorist cell, paper says

    Police from Poland's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBS) are searching for a terrorist group sleeper cell that they suspect to be located on the country's Baltic coast, the daily Polska reported Wednesday.

    CBS is investigating friends of a Syrian who lived in Gdansk, northern Poland, from the 1990s untl 2001, Polska said. The man was identified only as Michael Z. because his surname was withheld under Polish law.

    'We are interested in identifying crimes in the scope of terrorism,' Jerzy Stankiewicz, the head of CBS's Gdansk division, told the daily. Stankiewicz declined to give further details.

    Police were led to the Syrian after detaining several other citizens of Arab nations, Polska reported, citing anonymous sources. Police are currently investigating what Micheal Z. did in Poland and are questioning his acquaintances.

    Michael Z. claimed he was an architect studying at the Gdansk University of Technology, his friends told the daily. The acquaintances say, however, that he 'had no clue about construction, didn't work and it wasn't really known how he supported himself,' the daily reported.

    According to Polska, Michael Z. made several trips to Iran and left Poland suddenly after the terrorist attacks in 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York. Michael Z. took with him a son he had with a Polish wife.

    Tuesday, September 01, 2009

    Microsoft in Polish Photoshop scandal

    Microsoft has apologized for removing a black person from a picture on its Polish site and replacing him with an unidentified caucasian male.

    Software giant Microsoft was reeling today after it was revealed that a picture on its Polish website was doctored to remove a black person and substitute him with a white male model.

    As reported everywhere, Microsoft was forced to apologise after a Polish version of the company's ad had a black man's head replaced with the head of a white man. The image alteration of the picture was making rounds on the forums last night and Microsoft pulled the picture today.
    "We are looking into the details of this situation," said a Microsoft spokesman in a statement. "We apologise and are in the process of pulling down the image."

    Luckily, TG Daily managed to grab a copy of the shocking picture before it was downed. Image processing experts describe the fake as 'extremely sophisticated' and it was only by chance that the edit job was noticed.

    "It just goes to show you can't be too careful," said one under terms of strict anonymity.
  • Note: It was because.. you know... they know who they are speaking to.