An artisan whisky distiller has been unmasked in court as a wanted Polish criminal facing trial for a conspiracy to murder after spending 20 years on the run in the UK.
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 and has been living a double life as Dariusz Plazewski, the boss of Bimber Distillery, one of London’s first producers of English single malt whisky for more than 100 years.
Initially working in property development and construction after settling in London in 2004, he launched his whisky production business, aided by his partner Ewelina Chruszczyk, in 2015 and released Bimber’s first London single malt in 2019.
Plea for his release
He was arrested in England in January after Polish prosecutors demanded his extradition to stand trial for conspiracy to murder and drug offences and to serve the three-year jail sentence given to him in 2003.
His lawyers appealed at the High Court earlier in February for his release on bail.
However, Mrs Justice Farbey rejected his application after hearing arguments that his 20-year-long double life in the UK meant 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 evaded their grip and built a successful life in the UK, London’s High Court heard.
In 2015, using knowledge of moonshine production learned from his father and grandfather, he launched his career in the whisky industry.
He recently opened a second distillery, Dunphail, in Speyside, Scotland, and his business employs around 40 people.
Mr Ratajewski has been in custody since his arrest, but his lawyers went to the High Court to try 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.
‘Assumed name given’
The court heard how Mr Ratajewski gave police his assumed name, Dariusz Plazewski, on his arrest in Acton, west London, and a false date of birth.
Mrs Justice Farbey said: “When confronted by the picture attached to the arrest warrants, he accepted that he was the person sought in the warrants.
“He admits that he has been living under a false identity since arriving here early in 2004.”
Mr Ratajewski, now a British citizen, would face serious 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,” the court heard. No murder in fact occurred.
He faces additional charges, including conspiracy to supply cannabis, LSD and heroin, with the earliest charge dating back to 1998.
Judge Farbey dismissed his application for bail.
She said: “There’s no evidence that he fled Poland for any reason other than to avoid his sentence.
‘Strong roots in west London’
“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.”
Mr Ratajewski’s lawyers had 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 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.”