Polish president pardons businessman

A Polish businessman convicted in the beheading of two gangsters was pardoned Monday by outgoing President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who decided he had served enough time, Kwasniewski's aide said.

"Slawomir Sikora was pardoned," said Waldemar Dubaniowski in a short statement.

In March 1994, police pulled two headless naked bodies out of the Vistula River south of Warsaw. Sikora, a young entrepreneur at the time, turned himself in to the police five days after the bodies were discovered.

He was later convicted as an accessory to the double murder of a gangster and his bodyguard. The two were allegedly blackmailing Sikora and his business partner, repeatedly claiming they owed them money.

Sikora's grisly story served as the basis for the hit 1999 Polish film "The Debt," which steered the public firmly behind him. While troubled by the violence of the crime, Poles sympathized with the young capitalist who in desperation defended himself against ruthless blackmail.

Since that time, he has become a favorite of student activists and intellectuals across the political spectrum. In February 2005, 31,000 Internet users sent an appeal to Kwasniewski calling for a presidential pardon.

He had served 10 years of his 25-year-sentence, which Kwasniewski decided was enough, Dubaniowski said.

Kwasniewski, steps down Dec. 23 after two five-year terms. His replacement, conservative Lech Kaczynski, had vowed to pardon Sikora if Kwasniewski did not, Kaczynski's party's spokesman Adam Bielan was quoted as saying in Gazeta Wyborcza.

Critics have accused Kwasniewski of exonerating Sikora to divert attention away from a more controversial pardon.

Last week, Kwasniewski submitted an official request for a pardon of former deputy interior minister, Zbigniew Sobotka.

Earlier this year, Sobotka was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison after he and two other members of the Democratic Left Alliance were found guilty of informing local officials suspected of belonging to criminal gangs of police plans to have them arrested.

The charges against the trio in 2003 were a serious blow to then-Prime Minister Leszek Miller, also a Democratic Left member, who had promised a crackdown on widespread corruption. He later resigned.

The possible pardon of Sobotka, which still has to be signed by Kwasniewski, created an uproar last week in Poland, the AP reports.


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