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Estonian pilot set free by Tajik court, to leave for St Petersburg

November 23, 2011, 11:38 UTC+3
Estonian pilot Alexei Rudenko leaves for St.Petersburg by plane on Wednesday
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DUSHANBE, November 23 (Itar-Tass) — Estonian pilot Alexei Rudenko leaves for St.Petersburg by plane on Wednesday, a Russian Embassy official told Itar-Tass. Rudenko, together with his colleague, Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy, was set free by the Khatlon region court on Tuesday.

"Alexei is accompanied by Estonian consul in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan Margus Solnson," political advisor to the Russian ambassador to Tajikistan Dmitry Kabayev said, explaining that Rudenko was taking a shortcut to Estonia.

Solnson and Kabayev attended the final session of the court in the town of Kurgan-Tyube.

Vladimir Sadovinichy will fly to Moscow on Thursday morning.

"At present, Sadovnichy, his son Vladimir and friend Alexander Sukhorukov -- who arrived from the Russian capital -- are on the premises of the diplomatic mission," Russian envoy to Tajikistan Yuri Popov said.

The pilot's health is satisfactory. Sadovnichy might speak at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, the envoy added.

On Tuesday, the appeals board of the Khatlon district court in Tajikistan overturned the guilty verdict for two pilots of the Rolkan company, sentenced to 8.5 years for violating Tajik air space. The pilots were set free in the courtroom.

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 Kabul’s 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."

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