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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 13, 2010
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Gangster Dies, Mystery Remains
January 13, 2010   
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Artur Zirajewski, an ex-mobster and witness in a case involving the 1998 assassination of national police chief Gen. Marek Papała, died suddenly at a detention center in the northern city of Gdańsk Jan. 3.

Zirajewski had been rushed to the medical section of the jail Dec. 31 with symptoms of pneumonia and drug poisoning. He died despite attempts by doctors to save him. The media is rife with speculation that Zirajewski did not die of natural causes.

The Papała case is one of the most infamous assassinations of the past two decades in this country. Papała was shot and killed in his car June 25, 1998, in front of the Warsaw apartment building he lived in. The case has since been investigated by the State Protection Office (UOP), the Internal Security Agency (ABW) and a host of prosecutors in Poland, the United States, Sweden, Austria and Germany. Around 400 witnesses have been questioned, but it still remains a mystery who killed Papała and who masterminded the crime.

Zirajewski's testimony was an important part of the investigation. In 1998, a Gdańsk court sentenced the gangster to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the so-called hitman club, or an informal group of contract killers in Poland's Pomerania region who acted on orders from criminal organizations to terrorize or kill victims.

After prosecutors got Zirajewski to work with them on the Papała case, he revealed that, in April 1998, he had taken part in a meeting whose participants were searching for someone to take on a contract to kill Papała. Zirajewski also said that Edward Mazur, a Polish American businessman living in Chicago, incited him in 1998 to kill Papała, offering $40,000. Poland subsequently asked U.S. justice authorities to extradite Mazur, but in July 2007 the federal court in Chicago, Illinois, declined the request. Instead, the court ordered that Mazur be released from jail; he had been jailed since October 2006. The judge deemed Zirajewski's testimony unreliable.

The Polish investigators recently said Poland would again press for extradition and back the request with new legal arguments. The death of Zirajewski, however, puts a question mark over such an attempt.

Zirajewski's mysterious death will be subject to a special investigation, officials said. Preliminary autopsy findings point to pulmonary embolism as the direct cause of death, investigators say. Experts will try to establish what caused the embolism.

The investigators will also seek to clarify if Zirajewski was given appropriate medical aid.
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