A Liberian Embassy and a Cult
of Illicit Car Dealers - The Polish Scenario
(Special To The Perspective)
When it is reported in The Perspective time and again that
the warlord-led government in Monrovia has turned Liberia into
a theatre of international gangsterism, cynics in some quarters
perceive such persistent reports as politically vindictive. But
recent incidents in Poland involving an apparently fake Liberian
ambassador and some Eastern European gangsters captioned: "Phoney
Ambassador and Mercedes" in a widely circulated Polish paper
may turn a stone for doubting Thomases.
A Detective Press Conference
It started unfolding with a rather bizarre spectacle. At one peak time in September 1999, Poles were watching television when suddenly their compatriot, who purports to be a private detective, appeared on the screen to dispel the alleged roguery of an unknown African embassy. The rogue embassy in question was shockingly the newly accredited Liberian embassy in Poland.
Ever since its accreditation in 1998 by the Polish Foreign Ministry, the Liberian embassy has been reported to be a marketplace of sleazy posh-car deals allegedly masterminded by European gangsters. The televised press conference was therefore predicated on establishing the credibility of the embassy. Attended by journalists representing major television stations in Warsaw, it was called by one Christopher Rutkowski, a private Polish detective. The articulate Rutkowski categorically denied the embassy's alliance with gangsters and vehemently established its authenticity by drawing on the unprecedented fashion in which it had been recognized by the Polish Government.
Attendants of the press conference did not, however, buy Rutkowski's defensive gimmickry. In fact, it was largely seen here as a calculated posture of explaining away the roguery of an African embassy by a Polish beneficiary. Hence, following the press conference, NIE, a widely read paper in Poland, did a follow-up coverage of the incidents leading to the press conference in an investigative story captioned: "Phoney Embassy and Mercedes" which has sharply contradicted Rutkowski's passionate posturing, thereby raising eyebrows here.
"A Diplomat Poseur"
According to the paper, the mastermind-in-chief of these unscrupulous deals which involved Eastern European businessmen alike was one Henry Williamson, a Liberian national who purported to be Liberia's ambassador to Poland. Now dubbed "a diplomat poseur" in the Polish press, Williamson is probably not a novice in Liberian diplomatic circles. He is said to have been Liberia's permanent representative to the United Nations.
Indeed, Williamson may well have worn the mask in desperation. According to NIE, he had been sidelined by Monrovia in the aftermath of the 1997 general elections. Hence, when the Liberian Mission to the UN was moved from Geneva to New York in 1997, the former diplomat was virtually left in the cold. To survive, he managed to retain his ambassadorial credentials and transformed his private apartment in Geneva into a mini Liberian Embassy from where he invariably sold Liberian passports and other official documents to foreigners. The sale of these state documents brought him not only a fortune but also in contact with adventurous Eastern European con men prominent among whom were Polish businessmen most of whom reside and/or frequent Switzerland.
Williamson's contact with the Polish businessmen in Geneva led to what was presumed here a rebirth of Polish-Liberian diplomatic relations. No sooner did he appoint himself Liberian Ambassador to Poland than he, rather arbitrarily, appointed his foreign friends Liberian consuls, and trade advisors whom he posted in almost every Eastern European country.
What is even more surprising to diplomatic observers here is how Williamson, an abandoned diplomat, was singlehandedly able to have his designs safely approved by authorities here at the Polish Foreign Ministry. By 1998, he had already secured accreditation and placed Liberia on the diplomatic register here. Although Williamson still resided in Geneva, he rented a villa at the outskirt of Warsaw. The former Liberian diplomat simply planted in there one Jacek Szczygielski, a poker-faced, good-looking Polish national who was apparently a proxy Liberian ambassador but ostensibly named a trade advisor to "Ambassador" Williamson. It was from their respective vantage points that both men were said to have pulled the strings for these illicit car deals across Eastern Europe.
With these Eastern European conduits, the Liberian incredibly succeeded in attracting high-profiled Eastern Europeans to these lucrative posh car deals. According to NIE, his salesmen included shrewd Polish businessmen all of whom possess genuine diplomatic Liberian passports, while his customers were also said to have been Polish big shots most of whom are political heavyweights in Polish politics.
Referring to its Foreign Ministry sources here, the paper further reported that in late 1998 the Swiss authorities lost patience with Williamson who, using diplomatic immunities, had illegally imported about 300 vehicles into Switzerland. The Swiss were reportedly polite to the abandoned diplomat. It was however clear that he had fallen from grace in that haven of international swindlers. Thus, he quietly moved to Vienna, where he is now said to be based. Until recently, Williamson was still maintaining his ambassadorial status here in poland, a country he is said to have visited briefly.
A Mercedes Hunt Detective
According to the paper, the Rutkowski conference was indeed a gimmick inspired by a dramatic chain of incidents that eventually brought Williamson's unsavoury diplomatic activities in Eastern Europe to public attention here. More interestingly, the incidents centered around Rutkowski's private detective routines. A friend of Williamson in Geneva, Rutkowski is said to have been in a routine hunt for Williamson's delinquent Polish customers who were driving mercedes with Liberian license plates.
It was during one of his routine operations in June of last year that he spotted one benz in a small town in the south of Poland. The driver of the benz (also a regular in Geneva) was a well-connected Polish businessman. Rutkoswki, who accused the driver of stealing the car, alerted the police which in turn confiscated it briefly to launch an investigation. The police later returned the car to the owner, having found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Three months later, detective Rutkowski cornered another mercedes benz with a Liberian license plate "Marek 1" in another Polish city. This time, the driver was one Marek Macner, a local businessman. A scuffle eventually ensued between the two men, so the police was again called in. Rutkowski subsequently took Macner to court, alleging that the benz was stolen, that it had a fake license plate and that its driver was in possession of falsified official Liberian documents. He further stated that the vehicle (for which a full payment was yet to be made) was being sought by the Liberian government because of some unfulfilled customs duties.
What Rutkowski may not have been aware of was that Marek Macner had been frequenting West Africa for business, that he had walked the streets of Monrovia, dined with influential civil servants there and that he could not have had this easily discovered Liberian connection in Geneva without the mastermind-in-chief Williamson. Hence, it was easily discovered by the Polish authorities that all of Macner's official Liberian documents including a diplomatic passport were genuine. Wiliamson was believed to have been instrumental.
Meanwhile, during the legal tussle with Marek Macner, Rutkowski (at the request of a public prosecutor) immediately filed a written report (of course, through the Liberian Embassy in Warsaw) purportedly to the Finance Ministry in Monrovia. In response, Williamson (representing the Liberian government and/or the Ministry of Finance) wrote not only to support Rutkowski's claims but also appointed the detective a plenipotentiary. A court however ruled against the appointment, arguing that a detective cannot be given such authority under Polish law. Rutkowski nevertheless remained a somewhat roving attache to the "Liberian Embassy" in Poland.
Thus, amidst widespread battering that the embassy had been
serving as a cover-up for Mafia in Poland, Rutkowski had to call
the press conference to rekindle its credibility. His passionate
defense of the embassy appeared tenable. After all, it had been
accredited by the Polish Foreign Ministry however unprecedented.
According to the paper, the message about the embassy's covert involvement in the underworld activities in Eastern Europe was finally driven home here when Petera Steihubela, a notorious Slowackian gangster was reportedly gunned down in the street in Slowackia. The gangster was reportedly an errand boy for Williamson. He had transported hundreds of mercedes to Poland for the former Liberian diplomat. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted by closing the embassy down and squashing its accreditation.
Editorial Note: Efforts to contact Mr. Williamson were futile.
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