Prosecutors file for arrest of air controllers over Smolensk disaster
An investigative team of the Polish National Prosecutor's Office has filed to a Warsaw court for the temporary arrest of three Russian air traffic controllers who were on duty at the time when a Polish presidential plane crashed in Smolensk on April 10, 2010.
The move is the first step towards the issuance of an international arrest warrant, after which prosecutors can work towards the controllers' detention.
"The charges against the controllers concern deliberately causing an air traffic accident resulting in the deaths of many people," National Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Ewa Bialik told PAP.
In the course of the inquiry into the crash, which killed 96 people including then President Lech Kaczynski and his wife as well as dozens of senior government and military officials, the prosecutor has conducted multiple inspections of the wreckage, stored in the region of the Smolensk-North military airport in western Russia. Despite multiple appeals to Russian authorities for help in interrogating and charging suspects, no assistance has been forthcoming from Moscow.
According to new analysis of evidence material, the prosecutor has established that the radio-location landing system the Smolensk air traffic controllers were using was not working. The trace of the ill-fated plane disappeared from the controllers' monitors and as a result the majority of information the controllers sent the plane's crew was inaccurate. Despite the fact they could not find the true location of the aircraft, the controllers gave the pilots permission to descend and make a conditional landing approach.
After analysing voice recordings between the plane and control tower, in April 2017, the prosecutor decided to change the charges against the three men from unintentionally causing an accident to intentionally causing it on the grounds that when they gave permission to descend and approach landing, they knew the action could lead to tragedy but went ahead anyway.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Poland's demands were in vain, as Russia's constitution forbade the extradition of Russian citizens to other countries.
She added that the circumstances of the disaster had been "unequivocally stated" in a report by an international aviation commission, and accused Warsaw of "spreading conspiracy theories" to shift the blame for the crash to the Russian side.