Sat. Jun 15th, 2024
alert-–-boss-of-hipster-craft-whisky-distillery-accused-of-murder-conspiracy-after-‘going-on-the-run-20-years-ago-and-starting-new-double-life-in-london’-loses-second-bid-to-be-freed-from-jail ahead-of-extradition-hearingAlert – Boss of hipster craft whisky distillery accused of murder conspiracy after ‘going on the run 20 years ago and starting new double life in London’ loses SECOND bid to be freed from jail ahead of extradition hearing

A hipster whisky baron who lived a double life in London for 20 years has lost a bid to be freed from jail for a second time over fears he will flee the country to start another secret life.

Lucasz Ratajewski, 47, left Poland 20 years ago after being handed a three-year jail term for possession of a handgun, and reinvented himself as Dariusz Plazewski, the high-flying boss of Bimber Distillery – one of the capital’s first producers of English single malt whisky for over 100 years.  

The Polish national began life in London working in property development and construction but launched his trendy whisky production business, aided by his partner Ewelina Chruszczyk, in 2016 and released Bimber’s first London single malt in 2019.

But his past returned to haunt him when he was arrested in England in January after Polish prosecutors requested his extradition to serve out the three-year firearms sentence passed on him in 2003 and stand trial for conspiracy to attempt murder and supplying drugs.

In February, he failed in a bid to be released on bail due to the ‘risk of flight’ posed.

Now he has seen a second bid for freedom turned down by Mr Justice Fordham at the High Court – despite having previously offered £200,000 as security – due to the ‘very real prospect’ he would repeat his disappearing act, ‘obtain a false identity document and build a new beginning from scratch in a completely new country.’

The court heard that Polish authorities had initially issued an arrest warrant for Mr Ratajewski 20 years ago, but under his pseudonym he slipped away and built a prosperous life in the UK.

He used his knowledge of traditional moonshine production gleaned from his father and grandfather to launch a career in the English whisky industry.

Bimber currently employs around 40 staff and had recently put into effect plans to open a second distillery, Dunphail, in Speyside, Scotland, when its boss ran into trouble with the law.

The 47-year-old was arrested under a Polish extradition warrant relating to conspiracy to murder and other offences of drugs trafficking, extortion and robbery.

Following the arrest, Mr Ratajewski admitted having lived under a false identity since his arrival in the UK aged 26, but denied the charges brought against him.

A full extradition hearing is scheduled to go ahead before Westminster Magistrates Court in September, but in the meantime his lawyers went to the High Court for a second time, urging his release on bail until that date.

Lawyers for the Polish Judicial Authority resisted the application, with barrister David Ball noting: ‘He ran away the last time when his back was against the wall.’

But David Perry KC – for Mr Ratajewski – said the businessman had ‘every incentive’ to face the extradition charges and stay rooted in his adopted homeland if granted bail.

On top of building up the trendy drinks business, Mr Ratajewski has a partner and teenage daughter who live with him in London, said the lawyer, and to skip bail would be a ‘complete catastrophe’ for both his family and business.

‘With the life that they have created, it’s inconceivable that he would destroy it,’ Mr Perry told the judge.

‘He has worked his way up from nothing, achieving what is an extraordinarily successful business.’

Mr Ratajewski faces serious charges – which he denies – if ultimately returned to Poland.

These include conspiracy to commit murder in 1997 by allegedly supplying an AK47 assault rifle and driving the getaway car for use in a hit which was only thwarted by the presence of too many bystanders.

On top of that, he is charged with conspiracy to supply cannabis, LSD and heroin, with the earliest charge dating back to 1998.

He fled Poland in 2004 while awaiting an appeal on his firearms conviction, which was ultimately rejected in his absence.

Mr Ratajewski previously applied for urgent release on bail at the High Court in February, but again had his case turned down by Mrs Justice Farbey due to the ‘risk of flight’ posed.

His case returned to court as his KC urged his release on bail so he can ‘get his affairs in order’ and also support his family.

Mr Ratajewski ‘lived a life of deceit and subterfuge’ in the UK, Mr Perry accepted, but insisted he went under the radar partly to sever his links with former criminal associates in Poland.

Refusing bail, Mr Justice Fordham noted the £200,000 security previously put forward by Mr Ratajewski, but concluded: ‘Having assessed the risks, and notwithstanding all of those points put forward on the appellant’s behalf, I have come to the conclusion that there are substantial grounds for believing that – if released on bail and notwithstanding the bail conditions – he would fail to surrender.’

The judge referenced the whisky boss escaping from Poland back in 2004 while waiting for his appeal to be heard.

‘It was action which involved crossing borders,’ he said. ‘It involved going to a completely new country with which there was no connection. It involved starting a life from scratch.’

On top of that, he went to ground in London for 20 years, said the judge, adding: ‘It’s a dishonest deception which has continued for 20 years up to the time of the arrest in January of this year.

‘Finally, all of these matters arise unmistakably in the context of an individual who has – on the face of the materials – a resolve and a resourcefulness.

‘That is together with the very real prospect of associations which could assist him, just as they did when he was able in 2004 to obtain a false identity document and build a new beginning from scratch in a completely new country.’

When Mr Ratajewski set up the Bimber distillery in London, it became one of the UK’s few England-based distilleries, initially producing other spirits such as vodka and gin before going on to specialise in whisky – turning out 50,000 bottles per year for the global market.

His company’s Scottish distillery is located on former farmland on the Dunphail estate, near Forres, which Mr Ratajewski spoke of transforming into a plant which would turn out 200,000 bottles per year using traditional distilling methods.

Production launched there last October.

He styles himself as a ‘third generation distiller’, having learned the art through his father and grandfather, who brewed moonshine spirits without modern industrial equipment but often relying on ‘touch, smell and taste’.

In March, Mr Ratajewski’s pseudonym was removed from Bimber Distillery Ltd’s Companies House information as a person with significant control.

A statement was made on the company website following the initial failed bail application.

It read: ‘Dear valued customers, we want to provide you with an important update on the leadership of our distilleries. Dariusz Plazewski has relinquished all his responsibilities for both Bimber and Dunphail Distilleries and is handing over all decision-making and operational matters to the existing, experienced teams.

‘Whilst we understand the news of his personal legal issues may well raise questions and concerns, we want to assure you that our businesses remain fully operational and committed to serving you with the same level of excellence and dedication as always.

‘Going forward, Bimber co-Founder Ewelina Chruszczyk and Dunphail director of whisky creation Matt McKay will lead the activities of both distilleries together and drawing from their combined experience of both established businesses.

‘They will work diligently with our dedicated staff to ensure that there is no disruption to our services or the quality of our products.

‘Our management team, along with our staff, are fully capable of steering both companies forward and maintaining our ongoing operations smoothly. Thank you for your continued support and understanding during this time.’

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