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Russian pilot thanks president, embassy, and media for release

November 24, 2011, 14:54 UTC+3

Speaking about future plans, Sadovnichy said he wanted to take some rest for a while

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MOSCOW, November 24 (Itar-Tass) — Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy expresses gratitude to the Russian president, the Russian Embassy in Dushanbe and media for his release from prison in Tajikistan.

Sadovnichy said it to numerous reporters at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, where the plane carrying from Tajikistan had touched down earlier on Thursday. “I have been absent for practically a year, but as a result I am home,” the pilot told reporters.

According to him, the Tajik security service had behaved very dishonestly. “Two days after the landing they told us at the Tajik State Committee for National Security that there were no problems, and we were accommodated at a hotel, however with security guards posted,” he said.

“They kept delaying the filing of official accusations and that is why they did not inform the Russian Embassy timely,” he continued.

According to Sadovnichy, the whole story was just “a raid with an aim to seize the planes”. “There are so-called ‘turncoats’ in the leadership of secret services, who wanted to get their hands on our planes,” he said.

Speaking about future plans, Sadovnichy said he wanted to take some rest for a while. “Flying is not in my plans at the moment,” the pilot said, adding that he was not going to demand any compensation from the Rolkan company. “Next week Alexei Rudenko and I will meet with a lawyer and a representative of the airline and will discuss all,” he said.

Vladimir Sadovnichy was accompanied at the airport by Anatoly Kucherena from the Russian Public Chamber. Kucherena said the actions of Tajik authorities demonstrate that any blame can be thrown on a person. Sadovnichy talked to reporters for some 20 minutes.

About 40 reporters from different media outlets, as well as representatives of the Young Guards youth organization and the Liberal Democratic Party carrying placards with the inscription “We don’t ditch our fellow countrymen!” met him at the airport.

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 delivered 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 trial caused a public stir, and evoked a negative reaction from the Russian society and the leadership.

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