WARSAW (AFP) — Polish prosecutors on Monday said they would charge Russian air controllers with having deliberately caused the 2010 Polish presidential jet crash in Russia that killed 96 people, a theory the Kremlin immediately denied.
The conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government believes the crash was no accident and has been conducting a new probe into the incident, which Polish and Russian investigators earlier attributed to human error and bad weather.
A fresh analysis of the evidence, which includes recordings of the conversations between the pilots and the control tower, “enabled prosecutors to formulate new charges against the two air controllers, who are Russian citizens, as well as against a third person present in the tower at the time,” Polish Deputy Prosecutor General Marek Pasionek told reporters.
He said the individuals were guilty of “deliberately causing a catastrophe… that resulted in the deaths of many people.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately responded that “of course we cannot agree with such statements.”
“You know that an investigation is also ongoing on the Russian side. The circumstances of this tragedy, this catastrophe, are already very well elucidated and investigated,” he told reporters.
In addition to former president Lech Kaczynski — the twin brother of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski — many senior state officials including the central banker and military chief of staff died when the plane came down in Smolensk, western Russia on April 10, 2010.
Polish prosecutors had already pressed charges against the two Russian air controllers in 2015: one for “being directly responsible for having endangered air traffic” and the other for “unintentionally causing an air traffic disaster”.
Prosecutors on Monday added that fragments of the plane will be sent next month to four labs abroad to check for traces of explosives.
Polish justice officials have also been exhuming the remains of the victims to establish the cause of death.
Warsaw has repeatedly asked Moscow to return the wreckage of the plane, but Russia says it will only do so once its own inquiry is over.
Last month, Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz, who believes the crash was the result of a Polish-Russian conspiracy, accused former Polish premier and current EU President Donald Tusk of “diplomatic treason” over an earlier probe into the crash.
It occurred as the presidential delegation was heading to a ceremony in Russia’s Katyn forest for thousands of Polish army officers killed by Soviet secret police in 1940 — a massacre the Kremlin denied until 1990.