No bomb threat to Ryanair plane forced to land in Minsk - prosecutors

There was no bomb threat to a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius, which was forced to land in Minsk on May 23 only to arrest a Belarusian dissident onboard the aircraft, Polish prosecutors have concluded.

Once the plane was on the ground, Belarusian security forces arrested Roman Protasevich, a leading dissident, and his girlfriend. Protasevich had been on a Belarusian wanted list.

The Polish prosecutors said they had questioned a number of the flight's passengers and airline staff and inspected the plane and recordings.

"In the course of the investigation... it was established that there was no bomb threat to the plane," the National Prosecution's press service told PAP on Thursday, adding that the pilot was informed of the bomb even before the actual email containing the threat was sent.

Belarus claims the plane had to be forced to land due to a bomb threat sent in a terrorist email message.

"Also, the activities at the Minsk airport, including the activities of rescue and airport services, show there was no threat whatsoever," the prosecutors concluded.

"During the proceedings, a direct witness of the activities undertaken in the Minsk control tower was identified," the prosecutors said.

The investigation shows that a Belarusian KGB officer was present in the control tower on May 23 and that he was instructing the air traffic controller who was in contact with the plane's pilot.

"It was the officer who made the decision to bring the plane to Minsk," the prosecution said. "At the same time, the KGB officer maintained contact via telephone with a person to whom he reported on the current actions regarding the plane."

The New York Times newspaper wrote on Wednesday that "a former air traffic controller has been telling Polish investigators what he knows about the diversion of the plane carrying a Belarus dissident in May."

The newspaper also wrote that "the defector's account of what happened does not fundamentally alter what has been suspected all along but, provided by a witness who was directly involved, it helps Polish prosecutors build a solid legal case against Belarusian officials that could be tested in court, though none of those implicated is likely to appear for any future trial."

The West regards the forced landing as a case of state terrorism, and a number of countries, including Poland, have banned flights to and from Belarus, and the EU has imposed additional sanctions on Minsk.