Saturday, February 24, 2024

Boss of hipster craft whisky distillery is facing extradition to Poland accused of murder conspiracy after ‘going on the run 20 years ago and starting new double life in London’

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The boss of a hipster craft whisky distillery has been arrested and is facing extradition to Poland where he is due to stand trial for conspiracy to murder.

Lucasz Ratajewski, 46, is alleged to have fled Poland 20 years ago after being handed a three-year jail term for possession of a handgun.

The Polish national, who is accused of starting a new life in London as Dariusz Plazewski in 2004, began working in property development and construction.

He launched his trendy whisky production business, aided by his partner Ewelina Chruszczyk, in 2015 and released Bimber’s first London single malt in 2019. 

Bimber Distillery is one of the capital’s first producers of English single malt whisky in over 100 years.

The Polish national launched his own successful whisky distillery which focuses on using traditional

Lucasz Ratajewski, 46, is accused of having fled Poland in 2004 and started a new life in London as Dariusz Plazewski

Lucasz Ratajewski, 46, is accused of having fled Poland in 2004 and started a new life in London as Dariusz Plazewski

Last month, the Bimber boss was arrested in England after Polish prosecutors requested that he be extradited to stand trial for conspiracy to murder and supplying drugs, and to serve out the three-year sentence passed on him in 2003.

His lawyers last week launched a bid at the High Court to get him released on bail.

But Mrs Justice Farbey rejected his application after hearing arguments that his alleged 20-year double life in the UK is evidence that he ‘can’t be trusted’ not to go on the run again.

Polish authorities initially issued an arrest warrant for Mr Ratjewski 20 years ago, but under his pseudonym he successfully built a life in the UK, the court heard.

In 2015, using traditional knowledge of moonshine-production gleaned from his father and grandfather – Bimber means moonshine in Polish – he launched his career in the English whisky industry.

He recently opened a second distillery, Dunphail, in Speyside, Scotland, and his business currently employs around 40 staff.

The businessman has been in custody since last month, but his lawyers went to the High Court in a bid to have him freed on bail until May 4, when a magistrate will decide whether he should be sent back to Poland to face trial for conspiracy to murder.

On arrest at an address in Acton, he gave police his assumed name, Dariusz Plazewski.

The Bimber distillery uses techniques Ratajewski learned from his father and grandfather, who were both moonshine distillers in Poland

The Bimber distillery uses techniques Ratajewski learned from his father and grandfather, who were both moonshine distillers in Poland

‘When confronted by the picture attached to the arrest warrants, he accepted that he was the person sought in the warrants,’ Mrs Justice Farbey said, adding: ‘he admits that he has been living under a false identity since arriving here early in 2004’.

Mr Ratajewski, now a British citizen, faces grave charges if ultimately returned to Poland, Judge Farbey said – including ‘conspiracy to commit murder in 1997.’

‘The applicant is said to have supplied an AK47 rifle and ammunition to be used as the murder weapon,’ she said.

However, no murder in fact occurred.

On top of that, he faces additional charges, including conspiracy to supply cannabis, LSD and heroin, with the earliest charge dating back to 1998.

Mr Ratajewski’s lawyers applied for bail on grounds that he has put down strong roots in the west London community where he and his partner live, as well as raising a family and establishing his thriving whisky business.

‘He is a devoted father and, in respect of his business, he is an integral part,’ said barrister George Hepburne-Scott.

‘His position is irreplaceable and he employs a large number of people.

‘It’s inconceivable that after more than 20 years of hard work here he would go on the run.’

His barrister pointed out that many of the alleged offences stretched back many years, and the effect of detention on Mr Ratajewski’s partner and family will be devastating.

But Tom Cockroft, representing the Polish regional court of Lodz, argued that Mr Ratajewski presents a clear risk if granted bail.

‘His use of a false identity for over 20 years has demonstrated that he can’t be trusted. He is a fugitive from justice, because he left Poland knowing that he had to serve his sentence for the earlier offence,’ said the barrister.

Mrs Justice Farbey said the key issue was whether he posed a real risk of flight if granted bail, despite having offered £200,000 as a security guarantee.

She said Mr Ratajewski claimed he was compelled to use an alias when he relocated to Britain in order to escape his past.

‘He said he was forced to use a false identity because he had fled Poland in fear of his life, that he was involved with very serious and violent criminals in the past and that his life was in danger.’

But she added: ‘There’s no evidence that he fled Poland for any reason other than to avoid his sentence’.

And dismissing the bail bid, she told the court: ‘I accept that detention will take a toll on his partner and family, but these factors aren’t decisive.

‘I regard his continued detention as proportionate in light of the seriousness of the index offences and his past conduct.’

When Mr Ratajewski set up the Bimber distillery in London, it became one of the UK’s few English-based distilleries, initially producing other spirits such as vodka and gin before going on to specialise in whisky and 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 turning into a plant turning out 200,000 bottles per year using traditional distilling methods.

Production started on the site in October last year.

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

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