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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 16, 2008
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Brutal Kidnap Case Exposes Police Flaws
April 16, 2008   
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The abduction of Krzysztof Olewnik six and a half years ago and his murder two years later is shaping up to be one of the greatest debacles of the Polish criminal justice system in decades.

Olewnik, 25, was the son of a prominent businessman from Drobin near Płock, northwest of Warsaw. He was abducted on the night of Oct. 26-27, 2001 and his family received a ransom demand a few days later. Olewnik was chained to the wall of a cellar for two years before being tied up and gagged in a cesspit. Negotiations continued with the kidnappers all this time. The family finally gave them 300,000 euros in July 2003 by throwing the money off a bridge in Warsaw. Olewnik was strangled soon after the money was collected. His body was found buried in a forest in October 2006. Sławomir Kościuk, who had been arrested in connection with the crime 10 months earlier, led police to the site. A series of arrests followed.

The trial of Kościuk and the 11 others accused of either ordering or taking part in the series of events lasted from August 2007 to March 31, 2008. The court identified Kościuk and Robert Pazik as being the direct perpetrators and sentenced both to life imprisonment. The other defendants received long prison sentences.

Olewnik's family said they were unhappy with official explanations of the circumstances of their son's kidnapping and murder and with the way officials had handled the case.

In June 2007, Wojciech F., believed to have been the leader of the gang behind the abduction, was found to have committed suicide in custody in circumstances that have yet to be explained. Kościuk was found hanged in his cell in Płock on April 4 this year. The preliminary autopsy revealed that no one else was involved in his death. Kościuk, according to prison management, had exhibited self-destructive tendencies and was undergoing psychiatric treatment. The camera monitoring his cell had broken down the day before his death.

The Olewnik case has been problematic from day one. A specially appointed group of prosecutors from Olsztyn charged with reviewing the way police had handled the case was highly critical about the first four years of the investigation and refused to rule out deliberate negligence by police. The prosecutors say police seemed intent on proving the family had invented a kidnapping which had never happened, and made no attempt to investigate the Drobin underworld. Collected fingerprints were not checked against the police database, the family were not instructed on how to talk to the kidnappers, how to handle correspondence from them or how to record telephone calls.

Records of calls the kidnappers made were not obtained until 17 months later. No attempt was made to monitor the transfer of the ransom money, and no attempt was made to trace the cell phone used by the kidnappers, which was switched on for almost an hour the day the ransom was collected.

Finally, Olsztyn prosecutors say the police ignored an anonymous letter Olewnik's father received while his son was still alive. This has been condemned by the media as the police's greatest failure, as the letter contained information identifying the kidnappers and the place where Olewnik was being held.
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