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KURGAN-TYUBE /Tajikistan/, November 22 (Itar-Tass) — The appeals board of the Khatlon district court in Tajikistan overturned the guilty verdict for two pilots of the Rolkan company, Russian citizen Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian citizen Alexei Rudenko, sentenced to 8.5 years for violating Tajik air space. The pilots were set free in the courtroom.
Presiding judge Alisho Kurbonov underlined that the pilots had been found guilty of "contraband," and "illegal border crossing," taking into account the defence’s complaint and the prosecutor's protest, which envisions a cumulative jail term of 2.5 years.
Taking into consideration the amnesty initiated by the president and the time served in prison, they were released, Kurbonov said.
The commanders of An-72 crews flew food supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan. The planes belonged to the Rolkan company registered in an offshore zone on the Virgin Islands.
After the expiration of the contract, they flew to the Tajik town of Kurgan-Tyube, having obtained preliminary permission for border crossing from the republic's aviation authorities.
However, when both planes were still in flight, the pilots received a message saying that permission to land had been denied.
They had no technical opportunities to return to the Kabul airport, and the pilots, in order not to risk the lives of the crews', requested emergency landing.
After the landing, Tajik secret services detained them, and on May 12, they were charged with violation of rules of international flights, contraband and illegal border crossing in collusion with a group of persons.
On November 8, the Kurgan-Tyube court sentenced them to 10.5 years in a maximum security penitentiary, but the effective presidential amnesty commuted the jail term to 8.5 years. The amnesty is effective until December 1.
The pilots called the verdict "absurd," while their lawyer Boboyev characterized the court's conclusions as based on "versions and suppositions."
The trial caused a public stir, and evoked a negative reaction from the Russian society and leadership.
A week after the trial, Tajik Prosecutor Sherkhom Salimzoda said the verdict was "too harsh," expressing the hope that "taking into account the exceptional nature of the case in exceptional circumstances, the penalty could be meted out below the lowest limit."
On that day, the regional prosecutor protested the court's verdict.