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Russia pilot Sadovnichy flies home

November 24, 2011, 10:51 UTC+3

The commanders of An-72 crews flew food supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan

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DUSHANBE, November 24 (Itar-Tass) — Vladimir Sadovnichy on Thursday morning flew from Dushanbe to Moscow. He is accompanied by his son Vladimir and the family's close friend Alexander Sukhorukov who have been staying with the pilot over the recent time, counsellor of the Russian Embassy to Tajikistan Dmitry Kabayev told Itar-Tass from the airport building by telephone.

At a press conference at the Russian Embassy on Wednesday, Vladimir Sadovnichy disclosed the details of his stay in the Kurgan-Tube detention centre after the arrest, the following investigation, two trials, and finally the long awaited release. “I am grateful to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian leadership, Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan Yuri Popov and other members of the diplomatic mission, Russian journalists for the sympathy participation in my release,” Sadovnichy said.

“Here in Tajikistan, I realised that Russia is a great country,” the Russian pilot who could not control his emotions said. He also said he bears no resentment toward the government of Tajikistan and the Tajiks in general, expressing confidence that “the Russian-Tajik relations will return to normal very soon.”

Pilots of the Rolkan airline Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian citizen Alexei Rudenko were detained on March 12 in the Tajik airport Kurgan-Tube, and two months later arrested by the Tajik security forces on charges of violating the rules of international flights, unlawful flight and smuggling. On November 8, after more than six months, the court of Kurgan-Tyube sentenced them to 10.5 years in a tight security penal colony, and taking into account the presidential amnesty, reduced the prison sentence for them to 8.5 years. Their two Antonov AN-72 planes were confiscated in favour of the state.

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.

Such a severe sentence literally “blew up” the Russian society. The RF leadership and President Dmitry Medvedev personally defended the pilots by making a number of serious statements. As a result, their case was suspended on November 22, and they were released in the courtroom.

Russian Ambassador Yuri Popov said on Wednesday that Russia “will seek an acquittal in respect of its citizens by all legitimate means.” According to him, the pilots’ lawyer Gulyam Boboyev is ready to make an appeal against the Tajikistani court decision with a demand to drop all charges against the pilots. As follows from the diplomat’s statement, although Sadovnichy and the other crew member, Alexei Rudenko, a citizen of Estonia, were released in the courtroom last Tuesday, they have not been cleared of the charges and the conviction remains in force.

“We shall press for the acquittal of our citizen,” the ambassador said. “It is difficult for me to forecast what sort of decision will be made. But it is very good that the air pilots are now free.”

Sadovnichy has said that he does not make any plans for the future. “I am tired, I need some rest. I have no thoughts about flying, but I shall have a word with lawyer Gulyam Boboyev, who has dealt with our case from the very beginning.” Sadovnichy said he did not regard the case as a political one and had no grudge against the Tajiks, or the government of that country. “I have no complaints to make against someone. I am certain that our relations will remain fraternal. I repeatedly visited Tajikistan and I always felt at home there,” Sadovnichy said.

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