MOSCOW, November 9 (Itar-Tass) — A Tajik court sentenced Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovinichy and Estonian citizen Alexei Rudenko to 8.5 years in a maximum security penal colony. They were found guilty of contraband, illegal border crossing and violations of flight regulations. In a sharp reaction to the verdict, the Russian Foreign Ministry called it unfair and not humane. The Russian Embassy hopes the pilots would be released by decision of a higher court.
Vladimir Sadovinichy and Alexei Rudenko were detained together with the crews by Tajikistan’s National Security Committee in March, the "Kommersant" writes. Flying An-72 transport planes that belonged to Rolkan Investments Ltd, the pilots were on their way from Afghanistan after the expiration of a cargo delivery contract. The had a permit for crossing the border, but a Tajikaeronavigatsiya (Tajik Air Navigation) traffic controller said the permission was invalid "on the ground" and ordered the plans to return to Kabul. The pilots had not fuel for return flight, and the pilots, guided by the norms of International Air Code, landed in Kurgan-Tyube, where the Tajik authorities detained them.
In May, Sadovnichy and Rudenko were arrested on charges of illegal border crossing, violation of rules of international flights and contraband. The other crewmembers were released. The object of contraband was a half-disassembled aircraft engine, which the pilots of two An-72s used for spare parts. It became the key argument of the prosecutors.
The Tajik prosecutors demanded that Sadovinichy and Rudenko be sentenced to 13 years, the newspaper writes. However the court, though it found the pilots guilty on all counts, reduced the term to 10.5 years in a maximum security penal colony. Taking into account the amnesty which is remains in force in Tajikistan until December 1, the prison term is further reduced by two years.
The pilots' relatives blame the Russian authorities for failing to protect the Russian citizens. Foreign Ministry officials told the "Kommersant" that they had tried to resolve the issue "quietly." Now, Moscow intends to "use all the arsenal of means" to bail out the Russian citizen, a high-placed diplomat assured.
Moscow called the verdict harsh and politically biased, the "Moskovsky Komsomolets" writes. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in comments on its website that no substantive proof of the defendants' guilt had been shown. The indictment is based on speculations and unjustified suppositions. The experts the newspaper polled are confident that Russia would take very harsh measures against Tajikistan. One of the most realistic and effective measures is the introduction of quotas or visa regime for Tajik citizens.