Press Conference on the state of investigation of the Tu-154M plane crash
Published: April 10, 2017
On April 3, 2017, the State Prosecutor's Office held a press conference on the state of investigation of the causes and circumstances of the April 10, 2010 crash of Tu-154M airplane near the military airport in Smolensk, Russia.
New findings in the investigation
One of the most important elements of the investigation into the Smolensk tragedy that the Investigative Unit No. I of the National Prosecutor's Office took over on April 4, 2016 from the defunct Military District Prosecutor's Office, is now a comprehensive forensic medical examination of the bodies of the victims of the crash. Its purpose is to collect evidence as well as unmistakably identify all the bodies and their fragments. The results of the investigation will give the families of the victims the confidence that they actually buried their loved ones.
The Investigation Team succeeded in internationalizing the investigation by engaging in its research a number of renowned foreign institutions and world-class professionals of unimpeachable credibility. Their participation guarantees the professionalism and impartiality of findings - said Deputy Attorney General Marek Pasionek.
The evidence gathered at this stage of the investigation has given rise to the charges brought forth against three citizens of the Russian Federation who are accused of deliberately causing the crash, and for being an accessory to this crash, prosecutor Marek Pasionek added.
At the same time, there is an ongoing collection of additional findings and opinions prepared by the experts.
To aid in the reconstruction of the course of the tragedy, to determine its causes, and to catalog all remaining fragments of the crashed TU-154M aircraft, a virtual map of the crash site was created.
In addition to the main investigation into the Smolensk disaster, the Investigating Team No. I also carries out seven additional investigations concerning events not strictly related to the crash itself.
These include, among others, such issues as a dereliction of duty by public officials, abuse of trust in foreign affairs by public officials, the failure of the former Military District Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw to adequately deal with the Smolensk disaster, or the forgery of documents, and the attestation of false statements in documents,"said prosecutor Krzysztof Schwartz, Deputy Head of Investigation Team No. I.
These proceedings are related to the ongoing investigation, and are not conducted against anyone specificly. None of these proceedings have been completed.
Comprehensive study of victims' bodies
Since November 2016, prosecutors of the Investigation Team No. I carried out 17 exhumations and autopsies of victims' bodies. In the case of two people it was found that the bodies were swapped. Other five autopsies revealed that wrong body parts were placed in the coffins containing bodies of other individuals. All these body fragments are subjected to genetic testing to determine the identity of the victims. They will then be passed on to the families.
All of these activities are carried out with utmost respect for the victims of the Tu-154M plane crash and their families, said prosecutor Marek Kuczynski - Head of Investigation Team No. 1.
Thus far, the [troubling] findings have confirmed the rationale of the decision to carry out exhumations. Article 209, Paragraph I of the Criminal Code obliges the prosecutor to examine remains and to carry out autopsies if there is a suspicion that the cause of death was a result of a foul play. There were no autopsies or examinations of the victims remains carried out once the bodies of the victims were brought [to Poland] from Moscow and Smolensk.
Exhumations will continue as planned. By the end of this year, the prosecutor's office is planning to carry out a total of 46 examinations of victims remains, and an additional 26 bodies will be examined by June next year, said prosecutor Marek Kuczynski.
Involvement of renowned experts and laboratories
The guarantee of professionalism is the establishment of an international team of forensic experts who participate in the autopsies. They are individuals with unquestionable accomplishments and professionalism. Let us mention just one such individual - the head of the Institute of Legal Medicine in Geneva prof. Silke Grabherr, who carried out the autopsy of Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat.
I announced the need to internationalize the investigation into the causes and circumstances of the Tu-154M plane crash on April 10, 2010 near the military airfield in Smolensk, and this is exactly what is currently taking place, said prosecutor Pasionek, thanks to the huge efforts and considerable workload of prosecutors.
Activities undertaken by an international team of experts include examination of victims’ injuries with the use of computed tomography, physicochemical, toxicological, histological and genetic studies.
To ensure complete professionalism and reliability of physico-chemical studies, the investigative team has cooperated with reputable research institutions in the United Kingdom, Italy, Ireland and Spain, the Deputy Prosecutor General said.
These investigative procedures are to determine whether there are traces of explosives on the wreckage of the plane and the bodies of the victims.
The foreign institutes with whom the prosecution has cooperated are:
• Explosive Materials Research Laboratory for Judicial Purposes, The Scientific and Technical Laboratory of the Ministry of Defense of the United Kingdom. This institution, for example, examined the remains of victims of a plane that crashed as a result of the terrorist attack over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. This Lab also participated in ascertaining the circumstances of the assassination on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 that claimed among its victims the life of a Polish journalist, as well as the London bus and London subway terrorist attacks in 2005.
• Italian Criminal Corps Laboratory of the Karabiners Corps. It specializes in, among others, mafia criminal activities.
• Institute of Jurisprudence of Northern Ireland. It has researched, among others, the Irish Republican Army terrorist attacks.
• Criminal Science Laboratory of the Spanish Police, which conducted research after Al-Qaida's attacks on trains in Madrid in 2004, and investigated numerous attacks by the terrorist organization ETA.
Allegations against the suspects
Evidence gathered in the course of the investigation gave rise to the charges brought forth against two Russian flight controllers who guided the Polish Tu-154M, as well as their supervisor, who are accused of being an accessory to this air incident. According to the findings of the investigation, the flight control tower in Smolensk has misled the plane crew when the Tu-154M was at the distance of 8 kilometers from the airport. They gave the pilots false information about the correct path and course of the plane, even though they lost their image on the radar monitors, and did not know the aircraft’s accurate location. Contrary to regulations, they did not decide to close the airport.
The Prosecutor's Office has asked the Russian Federation to charge the suspects, interrogate them under the mutual legal assistance treaty and the participation in these activities of the Polish prosecutors. We are currently waiting for a response from the Russian side - said prosecutor Marek Kuczynski.
In view of the gathered evidence, and in light of Article 313, Paragraph 1 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the public prosecutor's office is obliged to initiate this action, irrespective of the effectiveness of the requests addressed to the Russian Federation. In most cases, such request are meet with refusal.
As part of the investigation, the prosecutors plan to describe and catalog all preserved fragments of the crashed Tu-154M aircraft, the number of which is estimated at thousands. The work of documenting all findings is to be undertaken by a team of specialists who will inspect the wreckage of the plane in Smolensk, [Russia] with the consent of the Russian side. Cataloging of parts of the wreckage, as well as the planned creation of a virtual crash site map will help in reconstructing its course, accurate identification of the damage, and identification of the causes of the tragedy.
At the same time, the prosecutor's office is conducting a number of investigative activities independent of the Russian side. As part of their investigation, the investigators surveyed a Tu-154 plane in Mińsk Mazowiecki, which is identical to the one that crashed in Smolensk. They also interviewed additional witnesses, commissioned expert reports, and analyzed documents obtained from various institutions. Case files currently count over 1000 volumes.
The prosecutors who appeared at the press conference pointed out that the final intention of the National Investigation Team No. 1 would be to obtain a comprehensive opinion of the international team of experts. This will allow for complete and reliable reconstruction of the causes of the Tu-154M plane crash on April 10, 2010 near the military airfield in Smolensk.
National Prosecutor's Office