The government failed to prove its extradition case against a millionaire wanted in Poland for questioning in the murder of that country's national police chief, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Edward Mazur, led into the courtroom in an orange prison jumpsuit and leg irons, was told that instead of being sent back to Poland he would be released.
"The system does work," Judge Arlander Keys said. "It may not work as fast as you want it to. But you are not going back to Poland — not in custody anyway."
The Polish government wanted Mazur, a suburban Chicago businessman with dual citizenship, extradited for questioning in the killing of Marek Papala, Poland's equivalent of an FBI director. Papala was gunned down in front of his Warsaw home in June 1998.
An arrest warrant issued by a Polish court alleged that Mazur had offered another man $40,000 to murder Papala.
The U.S. government brought the Polish extradition request to the court.
Keys said he carefully evaluated all the evidence before reaching his decision. In a 69-page written opinion, he said he had never denied a request for extradition before or even come close to doing so in more than a decade on the bench.
"But the court is not merely a rubber stamp for a foreign government's decision that probable cause exists, such that an American citizen should be held to answer criminal charges in that country," the magistrate judge wrote.
Defense attorney Chris Gair said Mazur, jailed since October, would not immediately comment on the ruling.
"You can see that he's very emotional, and I want him to be able to collect his thoughts," Gair said.
Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said Poland would continue its efforts to extradite Mazur despite the court's decision.
"We are not putting down our guns, we are not giving up," Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told reporters in Warsaw. "Today we have a first decision, it is not a final decision, and we are going to demand the continuation of this process."
He said officials are "convinced that the evidence collected during the investigation points to a high degree the probability of Edward Mazur committing the crime of arranging the murder the general of Poland's police."
Mazur had emerged as a suspect in the Papala case during 2002 testimony in Poland that relied heavily on one witness. Artur Zirajewski, a gangster serving prison time in Poland in another case, described a meeting with Mazur two months before Papala was shot to death.
"There was conversation about the hit man — no one asked about his particulars, only if he was good," Zirajewski testified then.
Mazur's lawyers accused Polish authorities of framing their client out of desperation, vindictiveness and a desire to smear the leftist opposition, to which Mazur has close ties.
Mazur, who moved to the United States in the 1960s, acquired much of his wealth during the chaotic, corruption-filled years after Poland shook off communist rule. Gair has said Mazur and Papala were acquaintances.
After the ruling, U.S. attorney's office spokesman Randall Samborn issued a statement saying that "while we respect the magistrate judge's thoughtful opinion, we respectfully disagree with the result." He said the Justice Department would consider its options.