Scandal hits Polish special forces unit GROM
Last week saw the first charges in an investigation into the financial irregularities of Poland’s most sacred military special forces group GROM, with some of the upper echelons in the unit accused of embezzling some PLN 400,000., the local media reported.
“The offence of which the defendant is accused could mean imprisonment of up to 10 years,” Ireneusz Szelag, the chief of the District Military Prosecutor’s Office, told Polish news channel TVN 24.
Szlelag confirmed that this is a first indictment in a multi-layered investigation. Charges have been brought against 14 people with three indictments filed.
According to Bertold Kittel and Jaroslaw Jabrzyk, investigative reporters from TVN 24, and the journalists who broke the story, the irregularities within the unit go back as far as 2002.
The main protagonist in the case appears to be Lt. Col. Artur K., a former chief of GROM’s supply department. Artur K. is the first to face an indictment. According to TVN 24, he reportedly acquired unnecessary equipment at extortionate prices. Thus the unit, which outsourced laundry services, came into possession of 32 washing machines, 23 tumble dryers and 70 irons. Most of the purchases took place at two local stores. One of them allegedly belonged to Artur K.’s love interest.
Moreover, some of the equipment never reached the gates of the GROM garrison. The suspects allegedly forged documentation that stated that the machines were handed over to soldiers, then “used up” over three months before being collectively destroyed. What happened to this equipment – if it existed at all – remains a mystery.
The Military Prosecutor’s Office split the investigation. One part deals with a tender for the purchase of 58 pickup trucks. This was opened following an investigation by the Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA), which audited GROM in the second half of 2011.
Alleged embezzlement was brought to daylight when former commander of the unit Col. Dariusz Zawadka ordered an unexpected audit at the unit’s warehouses in 2008. Auditors were not able to find the gear purchased by GROM worth more than PLN 4 mln. Zawadka notified Polish Military Police in 2009.
“From our agents’ findings is it clear that there were serious irregularities within the unit,” Jacek Dobrzynski, a spokesperson for the CBA, said as cited by TVN 24.
The case continues, but the fact that Zawadka left GROM a couple of weeks after revealing the irregularities, and a few months before former GROM commander Piotr Patalong (in the rank of colonel during his time with the unit) got a top position in Special Forces Command (DWS), which put him in control over the unit and would have put him above Zawadka, has been the subject of discussion in the media.
Patalong held the position of GROM’s commander from 2006 till 2008, but sources and the media stated he and Zawadka did not get along. According to media sources, GROM was divided, with each functioning as an unofficial leader of his camp.
Patalong supposedly had the support of a former commander of the unit, Gen. Roman Polko, who himself is known because of good relations with right-wing politicians – linked to the late and former president, Lech Kaczynski.
Zawadka is considered to be of the Slawomir Petelicki school. Petelicki founded the unit in 1990. Now it is recognized as one of the best special forces units in the world, capable of conducting both counter and anti-terrorism operations. Former deployments include Haiti, former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Zawadka also became the subject of scandal when in 2009 Polish business daily, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, revealed that he held shares and manged a private company called Brand Protection while commanding GROM. This is illegal according to Polish law.
He also held top positions in the GROM Group, where he cooperated with Petelicki, Paul Zalucky – the former chief of the CIA branch in Poland – and Michael Sulick, the former Director of the US National Clandestine Service, one of the CIA’s four branches.