23 Jul 2004, 10:50
Published: 23 Jul 2004 10:50 GMT+02:00
Three Polish citizens were arrested last Wednesday suspected of extortion following a dramatic action by a uniformed private strike force from Poland - on the streets of southern Stockholm.
The five members of the unit, dressed in military style camouflage fatigues, were also taken in by Stockholm police for questioning, but released the following day. The man behind the operation was a Polish member of parliament, TV celebrity and self-styled people's champion, Krysztof Rutkowski.
The astonishing sequence of events started just after eight on Wednesday evening, when the Polish owner of a construction company walked into Västberga police station and reported that he'd been the target of extortion threats from three compatriots. The gangsters had threatened to kill him if he didn't agree to take on illegal workers.
Accompanying him was Rutkowski. Police spokesman, Christer Sjöblom, described the scene in Thursday's SvD: "He explained perfectly calmly that he travels round Europe with his strike force, helping Polish citizens who've found themselves in trouble."
Just before nine o'clock, a hire truck and two cars drove into a courtyard in front of a row of houses in Vårberg. Four members of the strike force jumped out of the back of the truck, unarmed, and overpowered three people. The back of their uniforms bore the legend 'Rutkowski Patrol'. Intriguingly, immediately afterwards, about a dozen police cars turned up.
"The Poles conducted themselves in a very calm manner and immediately handed the three individuals over to us," said Sjöblom.
The interview facilities at the local station must have been full to bursting, with eleven people held for questioning: the three suspected gangsters, five members of the strike force, the victim of the allegations, Rutkowski and his cameraman.
It seems that Rutkowski put on a bravura display, claiming that he was a member of the Polish parliament and a member of the European parliament and therefore had diplomatic immunity. He brandished a document that could have been a diplomatic passport. Sjöblom said that the police bought the story and let him go.
The investigators from Thursday's Svenska Dagbladet were somewhat more sceptical and contacted the Polish embassy. An official there, Arthur Habant, said: "He's an independent member of our parliament, but he isn't a member of the European parliament." Diplomatic immunity only applies when on official business.
Rutkowski's five employees, who were described as co-operative, were all released on Thursday afternoon. The three accused all deny the charges.
So, is it really possible for private individuals to act in the manner of the Rutkowski Patrol on the streets of Sweden? According to the police it's no different from a regular 'citizen's arrest' and they don't seem to be disposed to take any action.
Ove Bring, professor in international law, told Saturday's SvD that this was wrong: "The intervention was not legal. It doesn't fulfill the criteria of a citizens's arrest." Two reasons for this were that it was a planned operation and that it was carried out by a foreign organisation. "The over-riding principle in Sweden is that it's the police who carry out arrests."
It's not just academics who are taking an interest in Wednesday's action. Kristin Axén Olin, chairman of Stockholm's police board, wants the police's role in events to be investigated. "It's obviously no longer a given that the police will handle arrests and investigations of criminal gangs."
Susanne Eberstein, vice chairman of the justice committee, thinks the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should look into Rutkowski's activities. "I take a very dim view of individuals playing police. It is highly inappropriate."
Aftonbladet on Thursday and Friday reported that the businessman at the centre of the affair had been harassed by the gang for four years to take on illegal workers. He had always refused and turned to the police - who couldn't help. For that reason he turned to Rutkowski's organisation. He suspects other members of the gang are still at large and intends to move house.
Rutkowski himself trained and worked as a private detective in Austria in the 1980s, before starting his own agency, Biuro Doradcze, in Poland in 1990. According to spokesman Macheaj Morawcej, they specialise in returning children kidnapped and taken overseas by foreign fathers.
"We help Poles in trouble wherever they may be in the world," he said.